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During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and Americ During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and America; Germany and its self-depicted hero, Richard Strauss; Diaghilev’s Russian ballet and Stravinsky’s music; the Dreyfus Affair; the Peace Conferences in The Hague; and the enthusiasm and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized by the assassination of Jean Jaurès on the night the Great War began and an epoch came to a close.


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During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and Americ During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and America; Germany and its self-depicted hero, Richard Strauss; Diaghilev’s Russian ballet and Stravinsky’s music; the Dreyfus Affair; the Peace Conferences in The Hague; and the enthusiasm and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized by the assassination of Jean Jaurès on the night the Great War began and an epoch came to a close.

30 review for The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    How do you follow up a major success in life? It’s a question I seldom ask myself. My last success was finishing the final two episodes of both The Night Of and Stranger Things in a single night, while drinking a $9 handle of rum and avoiding the sidelong glances of my pregnant wife, who is due any day. That’s the kind of success you only follow up with divorce. Barbara Tuchman certainly had to answer that query. In 1962, she published The Guns of August, one of the most widely acclaimed works o How do you follow up a major success in life? It’s a question I seldom ask myself. My last success was finishing the final two episodes of both The Night Of and Stranger Things in a single night, while drinking a $9 handle of rum and avoiding the sidelong glances of my pregnant wife, who is due any day. That’s the kind of success you only follow up with divorce. Barbara Tuchman certainly had to answer that query. In 1962, she published The Guns of August, one of the most widely acclaimed works of history ever written. It won the Pulitzer Prize. It was a popular success. It is said that Kennedy read it during the Cuban Missile Crisis. So, what do you do when your book has made you famous, wealthy, and also saved the world from nuclear war? How do you come up with an encore? In figurative terms, you don’t. The Guns of August is her masterpiece, and it makes a pretty decent headliner for anyone’s obituary. In literal terms - well, read on. I know what I would've done. If I’d been Tuchman, I likely would have taken my Pulitzer to the beach and spent the rest of my days drinking cheap rum paid for with royalty checks. Or I might have pumped out a sequel about the second month of World War I called The Guns of September. Tuchman didn't do either of these things. She didn't do anything, really. Instead, of a fresh masterpiece, Tuchman's next catalogue entry is the literary version of a sit com's clip show. The Proud Tower, the chronological follow-up to The Guns of August, is a collection of eight previously-published essays written by Tuchman. The only original writing is a three page Forward that tries to reverse engineer a thesis. In terms of content, I don’t think this is much of an issue for today’s reader. I doubt many of us have seen the original articles elsewhere. Certainly, this is my first exposure to any of them. This isn’t like picking up Lawrence Wright’s newest book and finding out it’s just his New Yorker articles, which I read as they were originally printed. In terms of being a satisfying book, though, I’m not sure The Proud Tower entirely succeeds. It is, at the very least, misleading as to its intentions. The subtitle of The Proud Tower is A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914. Right from the cover, you are lead to believe this is a predecessor – in spirit if not in fact – to The Guns of August. But it’s not. The Guns of August focused intently on August 1914 and the opening weeks of the Great War. The Proud Tower, on the other hand, is all over the place, hopping, skipping, and jumping from one topic to the next. It does not provide a portrait, a holistic vision, so much as it gives us an assortment of snapshots. Moreover, Tuchman’s interpretation of “world” is narrowly defined to mean – for the most part – Western Europe and the United States. (It’s the same bias Tuchman displayed in The Guns of August, where she barely mentioned the Balkans, despite the war having sprung from there). Most importantly, the shadow of World War I is hardly mentioned at all. The topics in Tuchman’s eight essays – here, they become chapters – feel randomly drawn. She has two chapters on Great Britain, both focusing on the shift of power away from the patricians (embodied in the House of Lords) and into the hands of the common people (embodied by the Liberal alliance with Labour). The first Great Britain chapter focuses on Lord Salisbury, and gets a bit tedious. The second chapter, about the de-fanging of the House of Lords, is much brisker and alive with political maneuvering. In “The Idea and the Deed”, Tuchman provides a fascinating survey of the Anarchist movement. Like Socialists, Anarchists were looking to foment a revolution. Unlike Socialists, Anarchists (being anarchists) were against organization, training, discipline, etc. Instead, they wanted to spark the revolution by spontaneous acts of violence. Tuchman always had a keen eye for comparing historical movements from one time period to another. She would have appreciated how familiar the Anarchist tactics feel today in light of modern terrorist tactics. The chapter on America, entitled “End of a Dream” points the spotlight on Thomas Reed, a Maine Republican who served as a powerful Speaker of the House. Reed tried to stop America from turnign into an imperial. It was a struggle he lost following American successes (and land acquisitions) in the Spanish-American War. This was the moment America went from a proud non-colonial power to an aggressively-grasping empire that mimicked the old order of Europe. Frankly, I’d never heard of Reed, so I appreciated Tuchman bringing her biographical gift to this man, a turn of the century titan who has slipped somewhat into obscurity. Tuchman’s essay on France centers on l’affaire Dreyfus. The Dreyfus Affair began in 1894 when Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer, was convicted of passing military secrets to the Germans. The trial and conviction were seen by many (rightly) as a sham, and motivated by Dreyfus’s Jewish heritage. The affair dragged on until 1906 and became a cause célèbre. On the one side, you had the moral might of the government and military, which held itself beyond reproach. On the other, you had celebrity activists such as Emile Zola who wrote the famous open letter, J’accuse, that pressured the government to reopen the case. In “The Steady Drummer”, Tuchman discusses the Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907. The conventions that came out of these talks attempted to codify the conduct of warfare. It touched on issues such as protection for civilians (and their property) and treatment of prisoners-of-war. Despite a lot of foot dragging among the great powers, who did not want other countries to constrain their abilities in time of war, Tuchman presents the Hague Conferences as relative successes. Indeed, as she notes, in one of her rare references to the looming Great War, a third conference had been scheduled for 1914. It never occurred. The oddest chapter is entitled “Neroism is in the Air”. Here, Tuchman goes on a rather lengthy tangent about Richard Strauss, the German composer and conductor. I’m not much of an opera guy, which is to say, I don’t care at all about operas. Thus, I was predisposed not to care much about this subject. Even if I loved opera, there’s only so much you can read about music, before you just need to listen to it. Tuchman concludes The Proud Tower with an article on Jean Jaures. The French Jaures was an influential leader of the Socialist movement. His murder on the eve of World War I ensured that the Socialist movement would support their respective countries’ march to war. Without Jaures, the Socialists became – at least for a minute – as ardent nationalists as any. Freed from the threat of strikes or opposition, the governments of the belligerent nations were free to do as they pleased. Unfortunately, they desired war. As you can see, there is no cohering element to these various chapters. Accordingly, there is an unevenness inherent to the proceedings. Nothing connects one chapter to the next. They don’t inform each other or build to a thesis statement. Tuchman does not deliver any sort of final judgment on the world before the war. Rather, she is making a bunch of random observations. Anarchists are violent! Strauss composes excellent operas! I liked The Proud Tower on the strength of its best essays. Tuchman writes at her usual high level, with erudition, dry wit, and perceptive characterizations. However, I couldn’t help but feel this book is more of a placeholder in Tuchman’s canon than anything else. Anyone picking this up in expectation of a prequel to her WWI classic will be disappointed. Despite the alleged thematic similarities, the two books are worlds apart. The Guns of August is driven by a strong narrative. The Proud Tower is a loose gathering of unrelated topical essays. This book, for all its qualities, feels like a way to keep up a revenue stream while Tuchman labored on a real project. If that’s the case, it worked. Her next book after The Proud Tower, a biography on Vinegar Joe Stilwell, also won the Pulitzer Prize. Sandwiched between two critical successes, The Proud Tower is a relative disappointment in Tuchman’s bibliography.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kalliope

    While from a proud tower in the town Death looks gigantically down The City in the Sea – Poe. This book is really a collection of essays published separately in various journals. Any book tackling the social, political and artistic situation of the world in the couple of decades before it entered its first global war, could only offer a partial view. These essays offer a series of selected aspects of this bellicose universe seen through shifting points of view. There are considerable ab While from a proud tower in the town Death looks gigantically down The City in the Sea – Poe. This book is really a collection of essays published separately in various journals. Any book tackling the social, political and artistic situation of the world in the couple of decades before it entered its first global war, could only offer a partial view. These essays offer a series of selected aspects of this bellicose universe seen through shifting points of view. There are considerable absences. For example, Russia and the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman empires are not tackled. Instead we get a focus on Britain, France, the German Empire and the United States. There are additional chapters on Syndicalism, Anarchism, the institution of the Hague Conferences, and on a German Musician. I have two favorite chapters. I learned a great deal from the one devoted to the US in which Tuchman shows how after the annexation of the Territory of Hawaii the country turned into something different from the days when it was founded. Fascinating was also the account of The Hague Conventions which tackled how, if they fundamentally failed, they also succeeded in starting a protocol that after some developments alleviated some aspects of brutality when humans decide to engage in war. The least relevant of the chapters was the one dedicated to a German composer. Entertaining in itself it seemed to grant disproportionate attention to Richard Strauss, no matter how beautiful his music is. And yet, in spite of the merged nature of this collation of essays, an overall picture emerges. From the Proud Tower we can see that it was the social structure of society, with its internal and extreme poles, that pulled a greater and greater tension and finally made the inner strings snap. But the view also offers the realization that if these social tensions were felt in parallel in the countries Tuchman has selected, their logical international relevancy was poisoned by distorting nationalisms. What could have been a series of revolutionary and coetaneous changes in domestic social pacts, marched instead into a political war against other nations. The book starts with the idiosyncrasies and quirks of the British Lords and finishes with the assassination of Jean Jaurès-- one of the founders of the French Socialist Party-- for being a pacifist. A nationalist shot him fatally a couple of days after the war against Serbia had been declared and four days before the war became general. Tuchman writes in a very engaging manner, but to me it was at times too engaging. I prefer a more analytical and less journalistic approach. The facts and arguments stay better in my mind.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Proud Tower: Barbara Tuchman's View of the World on the Road to War Channel Firing BY THOMAS HARDY That night your great guns, unawares, Shook all our coffins as we lay, And broke the chancel window-squares, We thought it was the Judgment-day And sat upright. While drearisome Arose the howl of wakened hounds: The mouse let fall the altar-crumb, The worms drew back into the mounds, The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No; It’s gunnery practice out at sea Just as before you went below; The world is as i The Proud Tower: Barbara Tuchman's View of the World on the Road to War Channel Firing BY THOMAS HARDY That night your great guns, unawares, Shook all our coffins as we lay, And broke the chancel window-squares, We thought it was the Judgment-day And sat upright. While drearisome Arose the howl of wakened hounds: The mouse let fall the altar-crumb, The worms drew back into the mounds, The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No; It’s gunnery practice out at sea Just as before you went below; The world is as it used to be: “All nations striving strong to make Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters They do no more for Christés sake Than you who are helpless in such matters. “That this is not the judgment-hour For some of them’s a blessed thing, For if it were they’d have to scour Hell’s floor for so much threatening.... “Ha, ha. It will be warmer when I blow the trumpet (if indeed I ever do; for you are men, And rest eternal sorely need).” So down we lay again. “I wonder, Will the world ever saner be,” Said one, “than when He sent us under In our indifferent century!” And many a skeleton shook his head. “Instead of preaching forty year,” My neighbour Parson Thirdly said, “I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.” Again the guns disturbed the hour, Roaring their readiness to avenge, As far inland as Stourton Tower, And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge. April, 1914 Satires of Circumstance We are about to embark on a great quest. That is to explore a world at war. Of course we speak of World War I, which would come to be known as World War I. It is not only that we seek to explore that world and war, but to attempt to understand why it happened, what brought it about. Not only should we seek to understand what brought it about we must be aware that we seek to do all these things regarding a world that existed one hundred years ago that went to war in 1914 and did not return to a state of uneasy peace until 1918. And in attempting to understand what surprised the world as the greatest conflagration the world to that point had ever witnessed, it becomes necessary to know what the world was like. Who were the people who lived there. How did they live, what did they do. Nor can we begin to understand the hellish waterspout that sucked so many nations into the depths of seas tinged with blood without understanding that it was not merely a world of politics or property but a world of art, music, dance, and philosophy. These are the conflicting aspects of culture that are inconsistent with the idea of war. The attempt to put these seemingly impossible inconsistencies together can bring about a great distubance of the human spirit that a world capable of music as beautiful as "The Rites of Spring," clashing with the quivering chords rising into a crescendo of horns that might sound the trumpets of doom, based on the writings of a man who died, mad, in an asylum, but whose philosophy was adopted by a nation as its theme, acknowledging the right, the need of exerting its power over whole nations out of a sense of nationalist fervor. Such things are of the type that enter our dreams and become our nightmares as we sense the end of one world and the beginning of another. It is as though we are walking as somnambulists in a world unknown to us. For it is unknown to us. We must be capable of forgetting, unlearning the modern world of which we consider ourselves to be a part. This is a journey that requires a guide. Just as Aligheri required a guide into the Inferno we must have our own Virgil. It is highly likely that we will find the need of a Beatrice for the war we will eventually explore was not a paradise, but a Hell as fiery as the first book of The Human Comedy. As we speak of Virgil we must think of a world of epic stature, that grew as great as Rome and fell just as surely as Rome. In one way we are traveling through a world as ancient to us as we would consider a symbol of its literature, the Aeneid. In his journeys from the sacked city of Troy, Aeneas met and fell in love with the Queen of the Carthaginians, Dido. And Virgil commented that a nation should be ruled by a woman to be so foreign to his people he had to document "Dux femina facti" which means the leader of the thing was a woman. So our guide is no Virgil. Our guide is a woman, Barbara Tuchman. And as it once was, once again "Dux femina facit." To be continued...January 30, 2014. Our Guide Barbara Tuchman was born Barbara Wertheimer, January 30, 1912, the daughter of prominent banker Maurice Wertheimer. Well that didn't take long. Interrupted. 2/5/2014

  4. 5 out of 5

    Wes Freeman

    Engaging history of white people from late 19th century to WWI. Written by American journalist living in U.K. and published in 1966, book purports to be "A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" -- which it ain't by a damn sight -- and works as a pretty good oil painting of the U.K., France, Germany, and the U.S. (with smatterings of Russia, Spain and Italy thrown in for spice) before they all started killing each other with gas and machine guns. Author shows us the political, social, Engaging history of white people from late 19th century to WWI. Written by American journalist living in U.K. and published in 1966, book purports to be "A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" -- which it ain't by a damn sight -- and works as a pretty good oil painting of the U.K., France, Germany, and the U.S. (with smatterings of Russia, Spain and Italy thrown in for spice) before they all started killing each other with gas and machine guns. Author shows us the political, social, and artistic zeitgeist(en) of what we on this side of the pond call the Gilded Age, giving them all equal emphasis (she must have done hella research) and doing a slow reveal on a time when ideas held such cultural currency that it was hard to tell the difference between what was actually political, social and artistic. What author sees in them days was boundless anticipation, a sense of progress, thousands of folks intoxicated by theory and oratory right before The Great War slapped a moratorium on that kinda Euro-centric idealism for the foreseeable future. All that social ferment yields a heady brew, but pouring it down the drain of history ain't all bad. In addition to exegeses on social progression, book also gives us the image of Western Civilization as a trans-Atlantic European boys club wrestling with humanist governance vs. nationalist self-preservation in the face of great change. The line between crusading progressive and mustachioed blowhard gets a little blurry after awhile, and it's hard to tell who the good guys are: Still needing a slide-rule to work out who the heroes were in the Dreyfus Affair, France's multi-tentacled meta-nationalist trial-of-the-century. The impression I get is that this European generation was actually pretty jazzed about the war in which they would wind up exterminating themselves because a) it had been a long time since the last war and b) they had piles of cool new war things (gas, air machines, rules [see the Hague Conventions of 1899 & 1907:]) they wanted to try out. Kaiser Wilhelm II just knew this war was gonna be awesome. Clever trick author pulls by saving her socialism section for the end, unwinding the tale of irascibly brilliant cadre men and women dedicating their significant mental resources to the liberation of the international worker; taking Marx's admonishment against nationhood to heart, French, German, British and American intellectuals brainstorm for decades about the best way to improve the plight of the bottom strata of society. Their rhetoric gets a little heavy, even silly, at times, but when WWI cuts it short, it's a drag. When Kaiser Wilhelm declares war, barking, "I know no groups, only Germans" (the inverse of Marx's maxim "the worker knows no fatherland") we get ready to watch the Socialists march off to kill each other back on earth. Author gives us the full brunt of nationalism's tragic victory over humanism. We also get ready for serious men in ridiculous helmets, blood-muddy trenches, evil-looking gas masks, the tropes of a new century's killing fields; an ugly, absurd death for a shining, absurd era. Author knows how remote this period will seem to her readers in the 60s -- and it's from fucking Mars in 2008, by the way -- so she writes it all down with the kind of loving and amused distance we reserve at Christmas for kids who don't know about Santa Claus yet. Author loves this time, but I think she's glad she knows the truth.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman Joy, Hope, Suspicion - above all, astonishment - were the world's prevailing emotions when it learned on August 29, 1898, that the young Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, had issued a call to the nations to join in a conference for the limitation of armaments. all the capitals were taken by surprise. That the call should come from the mighty and ever expanding power whom the other nations feared and who was still regarded, despite its two hundreds years of Europea The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman Joy, Hope, Suspicion - above all, astonishment - were the world's prevailing emotions when it learned on August 29, 1898, that the young Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, had issued a call to the nations to join in a conference for the limitation of armaments. all the capitals were taken by surprise. That the call should come from the mighty and ever expanding power whom the other nations feared and who was still regarded, despite its two hundreds years of European veneer, as semi-barbaric, was cause for dazed wonderment liberally laced with distrust. This book is a departure from Tuchman's more popular histories. The Proud Tower was written four years after her Pulitzer winner ‘Guns of August’. This volume of eight loosely connected chapters covers the changing world in the twenty five years leading up to the Great War. The focus is on the larger nations: England, Germany, France and to a lesser extent Russia and the United States. This read has more of a scholarly feel and provides a little less background than her more well known histories. The writing as expected is still quite good but there were some historical events that I was unfamiliar with. I did resort to looking up a number of the historical figures using online resources to assist. What follows is a brief synopsis of the eight chapters. Chapter 1 covers the Patricians: England from 1895-1902. There is a heavy focus on the enigmatic Lord Salisbury, Robert Cecil who served as prime minister three different times and was a favorite of Queen Victoria. He represented the old Victorian vanguard and was aptly dubbed a patrician or what we would call an imperialist today. He served as Prime Minister through the Boer Wars, a hard fought campaign and harbinger of the difficult times that lie ahead for Britain. Lord Salisbury died a year later in 1903 and the Victorian era was coming to a close. This was one of my favorite chapters. The average member of the ruling class, undisturbed by Lord Salisbury’s too-thoughtful, too-prescient mind, did not worry deeply about the future; the present was so delightful. The Age of Privilege, though assailed at many points and already cracking at some, still seemed, in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century and of Victoria’s reign, a permanent condition. To the privileged, life appeared secure and comfortable and peace brooded over the land Chapter 2 covers the Anarchists from 1890-1914. From France to the United States to Spain to Italy to Russia, there were a large number of assassinations and most of these crimes were committed by anarchists. I like the premise of the chapter, it was quite thin however. An entire book could be written here. Chapter 3 covers the United States from 1890-1902 and the death of Isolationism. Most of this chapter is focused on Thomas B. Reed the congressman from Maine and Speaker of the House. Reed was a greatly respected political figure, anti-war proponent, civil rights advocate and an isolationist. He opposed the Spanish American war, the annexation of Hawaii and the occupation of the Philippines and he later resigned from Congress in protest. The era of American expansionism was well under way. Military operations in the Philippines swelled in size and savagery. Against the stubborn guerrilla warfare of the Filipinos, the U.S. Army poured in regiments, brigades, divisions, until as many as 75,000 were engaged in the islands at one time. Filipinos burned, ambushed, raided, mutilated; on occasion they buried prisoners alive. Americans retaliated with atrocities of their own, burning down a whole village and killing every inhabitant if an American soldier was found with his throat cut, applying the “water cure” and other tortures to obtain information… A raiding party which missed Aguinaldo but captured his young son made headlines. Reed, coming into his office that morning, said in mock surprise to his law partner, “What, are you working today? I should think you would be celebrating. I see by the papers that the American Army has captured the infant son of Aguinaldo and at last accounts was in hot pursuit of the mother.” Chapter 4 covers France from 1894-1899 focusing heavily on the Dreyfus Affair. Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army and was falsely accused and convicted of passing secrets to the Germans. There was strong anti-Jewish sentiment in France (and across Europe). Emile Zola wrote his famous article J’Accuse and Dreyfus was given a second trial and Zola acted as an attorney for him after information pointed to a different officer as the one sending secrets to Germany. Dreyfus was convicted at the second trial and Zola fled to England after a libel conviction. Dreyfus was later pardoned by the French president. This chapter focuses on this powderkeg of anti-semitic feelings, strong socialist and anti-socialist sentiments in France. Chapter 5 covers the two Peace Conferences at the Hague in 1899 and 1907 and the drumbeat of militarism. The principal nations knew there were problems long before WW1. There were many expansionist and territorial conflicts between the powers in the Pacific and especially in Africa. There was also the Naval arms race between Britain and Germany that contributed to the militarism. Russia would have been more of a factor in the Baltic but their astonishing defeat at the hands of the Japanese in the East left the government and military reeling. Chapter 6 “Neroism is in the Air” covers the decadence of Europe, largely focusing on Germany, in the period of 1890-1914. There is heavy focus here on the art in Europe, especially music, and the works of many such as Strauss that veered heavily away from Victorian norms. Germany was expanding more rapidly than any other nation in Europe and Kaiser Wilhelm was promulgating his idea of Germany as the great nation and there was a lust for a new world order. Strauss completed the score of Elektra in September, 1908 … For the legendary drama set in 1500 B.C. he wanted everything to be exact and realistic insisting on real sheep and bulls for Clytemnestra’s sacrifice. “Strauss, are you mad?” howled the stage director in terror. “Imagine the cost! And the danger! What will they do when your violent music begins?” Chapter 7 covers the transfer of power in England from 1902-1911 in the age of the people and the rise of David Lloyd George. Chapter 8, the final chapter, covers socialism and the assassination of Juares in the immediate days preceding WW1. This chapter focuses heavily on France and the attempts of many socialists to avoid war with Germany and the frustration of many conservative nationalists who were deeply distrustful of the Germans. They correctly understood the Kaiser’s ambition to invade France and were concerned about repeating the disastrous Franco Prussian War some forty years earlier. Jean Juares was an influential French socialist and widely respected journalist and leader with strong ties to other socialists in Europe. He was gunned down by Raoul Villain a French nationalist on July 31st. Even if Juares had not been assassinated, there was little hope left to avoid war between Germany and France by that point. Four stars. This read is probably of more interest to those who really like histories or exploring widely ranging historical topics, whereas Tuchman’s other works like the Zimmerman Telegram and The Guns of August are more generally appealing and more tightly constructed narratives.

  6. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    It is understandable that many do not ‘get’ Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. It is a collection of topics, almost disparate stand-alone essays, which seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. As you finish each chapter and begin the next, you are almost dumped into another country, subject, group of people—the world at large—wondering what this has to do with what you were just reading. But Tuchman has a very specific purpose which she explains in the Afterword, for once worth reading fir It is understandable that many do not ‘get’ Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. It is a collection of topics, almost disparate stand-alone essays, which seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. As you finish each chapter and begin the next, you are almost dumped into another country, subject, group of people—the world at large—wondering what this has to do with what you were just reading. But Tuchman has a very specific purpose which she explains in the Afterword, for once worth reading first. Here is a brief selection from it: ‘The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained.’ Even if you only read a few of the fascinating topics* in this excellent book, you will learn more than from any other history book on this era. *The Patricians, England, 1895-1902; The Idea and the Deed, Anarchists, 1890-1914; The End of a Dream, America, 1890-1902; ‘Give me Combat!’, France, 1894-9; The Steady Drummer, The Hague: 1899 and 1907 +++ There is MUCH she does NOT cover. This is a book about the peoples living in the countries of the US, Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary with some mention of Russia, then considered the ‘Western powers’. Anyone who wants to critique this (or any) book on what is not there, should not read that book. Take each book for what IS there. No person (or book) can be all things to all people and we should not expect them to be. It is grossly unfair to expect a book, especially one written years ago, to come up to our standards. Instead, we should ask ourselves if we could meet their standards? I dare say we could not. As the title says, this is a portrait. A portrait is a single two dimensional view of a subject. It shows some, but still leaves out much. This is my second complete reading. I have also reread several of the better chapters 3 and 4 times. MOST highly recommended! January 19, 2019: Over the Christmas holidays we went as a family to see Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old and it brought back memories of our trip¹ to the WWI battlefield of Verdun when we lived in Europe. So we decided that this and Ms. Tuckman's other book, The Guns of August would be our next listens... ¹My singular visit and my husband's several trips there. May 26, 2008: Folio Society sold this as part of a combined set with The Guns of August. Read (back in 2001) following GoA but should have read this first. The Proud Tower gives the background for the social, political, artistic, military movements/events which occurred in a spiritually stagnant Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s precipitating the climate necessary for the bloodbath of WWI. Excellent! Although not considered an 'historian' in the strict sense of the word, Barbara Tuchman is accessible, i.e., she writes readable histories for the average person.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    It is a thankless job to write a book about the origins of a widespread conflagration such as the First World War. Where is one to draw the line? Where author Barbara Tuchman apparently drew it was the countries of Western Europe -- Britain, France, and Germany -- plus the United States. But what about the view from St. Petersburg or Vienna or even Istanbul? It is all well and good to talk about the rise of international socialism, but what about all the energies released by the decay of the Ott It is a thankless job to write a book about the origins of a widespread conflagration such as the First World War. Where is one to draw the line? Where author Barbara Tuchman apparently drew it was the countries of Western Europe -- Britain, France, and Germany -- plus the United States. But what about the view from St. Petersburg or Vienna or even Istanbul? It is all well and good to talk about the rise of international socialism, but what about all the energies released by the decay of the Ottoman Empire and the frustrated desires of the long-suppressed peoples on the "wrong" side of the Adriatic? The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890-1914 does not even bother to mention the First and Second Balkan Wars that took place in 1912-13 and radically altered the map of Europe. She does not mention why Austria wanted to punish Serbia, even though the assassinated Archduke Ferdinand was as fiercely unpopular in Vienna as he was in Belgrade and Sarajevo. And what about Russia? Why was Nicholas II so eager to go to bat for Serbia? Still and all, The Proud Tower is not only an essential book, but verges on being a great one. I can continue to cavil about what Tuchman does not cover, but on the subjects she does cover, she is fair-to-middling great. Her chapters on the Dreyfus affair in France, the anarchists of Europe, on the rise and fall of the patrician politicians of England, and the strangeness of Kaiser Wilhelm II's Germany are classics. The title of the book comes from a poem by Edgar Allan Poe called "The City in the Sea":While from a proud tower in the town Death looks gigantically down.This is the second time I've read The Proud Tower, which remains the classical study of the long, slow march to the War To End All Wars.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I simply love Tuchman’s writing style, which tells stories around various figures and themes relevant to understanding the origins of the First World War. Except in her introduction and final scene on the verge of mobilization of armies she avoids explicit reference to the war because of the power of the lens of hindsight to distort the accuracy of historical truth. She leaves it to other accounts, including her earlier book, “The Guns of August”, to elucidate the political evolution leading to I simply love Tuchman’s writing style, which tells stories around various figures and themes relevant to understanding the origins of the First World War. Except in her introduction and final scene on the verge of mobilization of armies she avoids explicit reference to the war because of the power of the lens of hindsight to distort the accuracy of historical truth. She leaves it to other accounts, including her earlier book, “The Guns of August”, to elucidate the political evolution leading to the war, the “Dual and Triple Alliances, Moroccan crises and Balkan imbroglios.” Such assessment by itself she believes “is misleading because it allows us to rest on the easy illusion that it is ‘they,’ the naughty statesmen, who are responsible for war while ‘we,’ the innocent people, are merely led”. In her view, “The diplomatic origins, so-called, of the Great War are only the fever chart of the patient; they do not tell us what caused the fever.” Her method instead is to “concentrate on society rather than the state”, and her agenda is eloquently stated in these two sentences: The Great War of 1914-18 lies like a band of scorched earth dividing that time from ours. In wiping out so many lives which would have been operative on the years that followed, in destroying beliefs, changing ideas, and leaving incurable wounds of disillusion, it created a physical as well as psychological gulf between two epochs. This book is an attempt to discover the quality of the world from which the great World came. With such a goal, it is no wonder that I sometimes found myself missing a coherent focus. My lazy self wanted someone wise to tell me what to think and present lessons learned from history. Instead I came to appreciate how she breathes life into so many figures and lets their stories paint the big picture and like a novelist, showing not telling what the narrative themes. The book’s origin derives from a set of essays published in magazines and journals. The chapters of her stew include: 1) the status of the aristocracy in England, 2) the evolution of the anarchist movement, 3) America’s political struggles over its transition toward imperialism, 4) the Dreyfus Affair in France, 5) the attempt of the Hague peace conferences to establish as international court, 6) the ferment of culture and the arts in Germany, 7) the growth in power by the Liberal and Labor Parties in England, 8) the evolution of socialism in France, England, and Germany. A little bit more of a sketch of these contents is derived from a 2009 Washington Post review by Jonathan Yardley is tucked away here: (view spoiler)[In "The Patricians," she writes about an England in which "the Age of Privilege, though assailed at many points and already cracking at some, still seemed, in the closing years of the Nineteenth Century and of Victoria's reign, a permanent condition." "The Idea and the Deed" is about the Anarchists, who "were able to draw blueprints of a state of universal harmony only by ignoring the evidence of human behavior and the testimony of history." "End of a Dream" is about the rise of the U.S. Navy and America's turn toward imperialism. In "Give Me Combat!" she writes about the Dreyfus Affair, in which a French officer was convicted of turning over secrets to Germany, a wildly controversial case that reeked of anti-Semitism. In "The Steady Drummer," her subject is the peace conferences of 1899 and 1907 at the Hague, in which little more than rhetorical progress was made toward "the goal of a new international order in which nations would be willing to give up their freedom to fight in exchange for the security of law." "Neroism Is in the Air" is about prewar German culture, with particular emphasis on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the music of Richard Strauss. In "Transfer of Power," she writes about the "transfer of power" in England, "not a mere political transfer from the in-party to the outs but one more profound, to a new class." And, finally, in "The Death of Jaurès," her focus is on the birth of socialism and, with the murder of Jean Jaurès, its great French leader, the death of his conviction "that man was good, that society could be made good and the struggle to make it so was to be fought daily, by available means and within present realities." (hide spoiler)] I learned to sit back and enjoy the ride and luxuriate in lingering whenever she did. In that way, as a portrait of an age, it stands up well in comparison with her magnanimous, and also wandering, book on the 14th century, "The Distant Mirror". Tension over the impending cataclysm imbues a special poignancy to her narratives, somewhat like life on the Titanic before the iceberg is struck. I get a sense of a ballroom dance with intricate formations of alternating partners. With variations among countries, we see the swirl of nationalism vs. internationalism, socialism vs. capitalism, labor vs. management, monarchy vs. democracy, working class vs. aristocracy, church vs. state, cultural modernism vs. traditional values. My eyes glazed over the most in the first chapter on the persistence of the class structure of Britain in the period. As Tuchman herself lived a privileged life of wealth, she certainly had an eye for the details of their upper classes, down to details of their jewelry and fancy dresses. She outdid herself in building outrage in me and likely most readers over the excesses in the lifestyles of the patricians and their sense of entitlement as natural rulers. Still, I did come to appreciate some of their paradoxes, such as many taking up liberal causes such as constraints on child labor and health care for the poor and their acceptance by the majority of the lower classes. I got pleasure from her putting up an iconic portrait by Sargent of Lord Ribblesdale, who was a Liberal Whip in the House of Lords a trustee of the National Gallery. This personification of the English gentleman entitled “The Ancestor” garners this wonderful response from Tuchman: Standing at full length in the portrait, dressed as Master of the Queen’s Buckhound in long riding coat, top hat, glistening boots and holding a coiled hunting whip, Sargent’s Ribblesdale stared out upon the world in an attitude of such natural arrogance, elegance and self-confidence as no man of a later day would ever achieve. …Like most of his kind he had a sense of easy communion with the land-based working class who served the sports and estates of the gentry. Lord Ribblesdale, the epitome of English gentry--painting by Sargent I also loved it when she waxed poetic over the aristocracy’s love of horses: The English gentleman is unthinkable without his horse. …He provided locomotion, occupation and conversation; inspired love, bravery, poetry and physical prowess. He was the essential element in racing, the sport of kings, as in cavalry, the elite of war. …The fox-hunting man never had enough of the thrills, the danger, and the beauty of the hunt; of the wail of the huntsman’s horn, the excited yelping of the hounds, the streaming rush of red-coated riders and black-clad ladies on sidesaddles, the flying leaps over banks, fences, stone walls and ditches, even crashes, broken bones and the cold aching ride home in winter. If it was bliss in that time to be alive and of the leisured class, to hunt was rapture. The reason that I liked the section on U.S. imperialism trends is because it countered my conception of what seemed so inevitable from reading about Teddy Roosevelt (in McCullough’s “Mornings on Horseback”). It was enlightening to see how the beginnings of the advance of the U.S. from an isolationist nation into a world power in this period had some powerful naysayers. That a man from my state of Maine, Thomas Reed, as a legislative gatekeeper as Speaker of the House, had an important role in the debate against annexation of Hawaii and in putting brakes on the progressive steps leading to acquisition of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines was personally gratifying to me. The fount of ideology supporting arguments in favor territorial acquisition at almost any cost is Alfred Mahan, commander of the Naval War College and author of “The Influence of Sea Power on History”. Thomas Reed and Alfred Mahan The section dragged a bit for me over Reed’s battle to get rid of the power of the minority party to block any legislation obnoxious to it by refusing a quorum by remaining silent when a roll call vote was held. Where she excels is in aptly capturing the personality of these figures and making you imagine the connection to their politics. Here are some choice examples on Reed: His hair thinned until he was almost bald, his figure bellied out until, as he walked down the streets of Portland, he resembled “a human frigate among shallops.” Silent, impassive, with an inward-turned eye, noticing no one, he moved along with the ponderous, gently swaying gait of an elephant. “How narrow he makes the street look!” a passer-by once exclaimed. … Never landed in a large sense, nor wealthy, these forbears and their neighbors had striven over the generations to maintain a settlement on the rock-ribbed soil, to survive Indian attack and isolation and snowbound winters. The habit of struggle against odds was bred into Thomas Reed’s blood. … He never used an extra word, never stumbled in his syntax, was never at a loss, never forced to retreat or modify a position. He was instant in rejoinder, terse, forcible, lucid. He could state a case unanswerably, illuminate an issue, destroy an argument or expose a fallacy in fewer words than anyone else. His language was vivid and picturesque. “Hardly time to ripen a strawberry,” he said to describe a lapse of two months. …His epigrams were famous. “All the wisdom in the world consists in shouting with the majority” was one. “A statesman is a politician who is dead” was another. …Once when mistaken for Cleveland in an ill-lit room, Reed said, “Mercy! Don’t tell Grover. He is too proud of his good looks already.” Tuchman’s profile of Mahan captures a bit of his narrow morality in personal life as a contrast with the questionable moral foundations of his belief in the Manifest Destiny for the U.S. to become a global power: He had little sense of humor, a high moral tone and shared the respectable man’s horror of Zola’s novels, which he forbade his daughters to read. So precise were his scruples that when living on naval property at the War College he would not allow his children to use the government pencils. … External expression of his personality was limited: his life was inner. He was like a steam kettle in which the boiling goes on within an enclosed space and the steam comes out through a single spout. Reed effectively identified militarism and colonial acquisitions as counter to the principles of the nation’s founders. Yet Mahan and Senator Lodges’ arguments over the strategic benefits of Hawaii for naval operations in the Pacific combined with economic payoffs won the day. Their hunger for bases in Cuba and the Philippines was fulfilled when the sinking of the ship “Maine” in Havana provided the excuse for the Spanish-American War and easy victory. I was surprised how divisive the fight over whether to keep the Philippines was. It generated strange bedfellows in opposition, as labor leader Gompers was joined by industrialist Carnegie in the protests. President McKinley went with keeping the island, with a token payment of $20 million to ease the perfidy. We know now that the rebels who fought the Spanish soon turned against American governance and that a long jungle war wreaked devastation on the insurgents and disheartened the U.S. military forces in a way that presaged the Vietnam War. I appreciated Reed’s comments after losing the struggle in Congress to prevent the takeover: “We have bought ten million Malays at $2.00 a head unpicked,” remarked Reed acidly, and in the most prescient comment made by anyone at the time, he added, “and nobody knows what it will cost to pick them.” Of other parts of the book, I was most fascinated and moved by Tuchman’s coverage of the dream of the socialists for an international brotherhood of workers which would be able to abolish war through the power of a general strike. Having recently read about the war resistance movements in Britain in Hochschild’s book, “To End All Wars”, I was primed to feel sad all over again at how nationalism trumped any broader humanitarian movement or the uncompleted attempts of the Hague conferences to institute negotiated settlement of international disputes. The motivations and efforts of socialists like Keir Hardie in Britain and Jean Jaurès in France to prevent the war were heroic but futile, in the latter case ended by his murder in August, 1914. The epoch of peace in Europe was revealed by this book to be full of conflicts in ideas, sporadic but pervasive violence surrounding labor strikes and fights for suffrage, small wars confined to distant colonies or the Balkans, and a build-up of armaments. The gulf between relative peace to world war now became a narrow line easily stepped across. In England, Hardie and only a few others protested the Parliament’s steps toward war after Germany and France began mobilization of their armies. What a powerful ending to the book Tuchman makes: Elsewhere there was no dissent, no strike, no protest, no hesitation to shoulder a rifle against fellow workers of another land. When the call came, the worker, whom Marx declared to have no fatherland, identified himself with country, not class. He turned out to be a member of the national family like anyone else. The force of his antagonism which was supposed to topple capitalism, found a better target in the foreigner. The working class went to war willingly, even eagerly, like the middle class, like the upper class, like the species. Jean Jaures and Barbara Tuchman

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jan-Maat

    I remember this as an accessible account of the subject, with nice vignettes like Lord Salisbury being scooted around his garden in his bath chair.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    With this work, Ms. Tuchman reminds me that she is one of the greatest historians to write in the English language. She admirably described those years that could very well have led to a previously unexperienced level of social enlightenment, yet instead led to decades of previously unexperienced horrors. Occasionally, I think about what the air felt like in 1913 Berlin; what would my thoughts for the future have felt like then? What relevance, if any, does that have for my thoughts today? I was With this work, Ms. Tuchman reminds me that she is one of the greatest historians to write in the English language. She admirably described those years that could very well have led to a previously unexperienced level of social enlightenment, yet instead led to decades of previously unexperienced horrors. Occasionally, I think about what the air felt like in 1913 Berlin; what would my thoughts for the future have felt like then? What relevance, if any, does that have for my thoughts today? I was particularly interested in Ms. Tuchman’s account of the origins of American imperialism, the consequences of which we experience, magnified many times on many dimensions, to this day, the original debates and debaters regrettably mostly forgotten, now shrouded from view through the haze of time, leaving instead a seemingly stolid status quo, as if things were always destined to be this way. Ms. Tuchman provided the best summary of these years in the final paragraph: Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other’s company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. While Ms. Tuchman died several years ago, her voice lives in this volume. I’m mightily impressed with both her level of research and clarity of expression.

  11. 5 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    Jerusalem (And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time) sung by Paul Robeson Idealism vs Nationalism This book follows on from my reading of Wedgewood's The Thirty Years War for me in my personal reading syllabus (I'll link to that below), and we are looking at Europe at the 25 years before WWI. This book followed-up Tuchman's breakthrough bestseller The Guns of August and was meant to capitalize on its success. It uses some previously published articles and some articles written for this book to show what Jerusalem (And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time) sung by Paul Robeson Idealism vs Nationalism This book follows on from my reading of Wedgewood's The Thirty Years War for me in my personal reading syllabus (I'll link to that below), and we are looking at Europe at the 25 years before WWI. This book followed-up Tuchman's breakthrough bestseller The Guns of August and was meant to capitalize on its success. It uses some previously published articles and some articles written for this book to show what was going on for some of the key players before the way. I want to look into what is written in this book and what was not included; I had by-chance the fortune of reading Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil by W. E. B. Du Bois and gaining an on-the-ground insight by someone who lived through these times and lived for a while in one of the principal countries (I'll return to Du Bois later). The United Kingdom would have two big social transitions before the War came. The death of Queen Victoria whose name labeled the the 19th century status quo, who's grandchildren ruled most of Europe, and whose empire ruled most of the Earth was followed on by the disastrous Pyrrhic victory of the Second Boer War which exposed the growing weakness of the British military and its government. The governing aristocracy which made up the Conservatives and Liberals was facing a new order of young ambitious Professional middle-class and working class. The two parties had spent so much time taking their world for granted that they felt no real threat to themselves besides Irish Home Rule and Germany. The rise to power of imperial-minded countries like the United States after its war with Spain and Japan after its way with Russia, not to mention the threat Imperial Germany saw the UK do the unthinkable and normalize diplomatic relations with France which it had not had since the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. This would see Britain and France settle all their disputes over their colonies and make plans to try to gobble-up more as empires do. This was followed-up with the General Election of 1906 which saw the British Labour Party enter the House of Commons and the British Liberals get the biggest majority ever--and subsequently collapse and see Labour become the party of the British left. Meanwhile, the British nobles who controlled the Conservative party would see their powers curtailed and be replace by the same sort of capitalist oligarchs that control the United States. The big highlight of this book for me was what was going on in France at this time. This was the France that got consumed by The Dreyfus Affair. Especially given why I am reading this book and the next history book in my little history syllabus, this chapter was very important for me to read. A Jewish army captain named Alfred Dreyfus is accused of espionage by the French Army general command based on being Jewish and "unlikeable." at first no one questions anything, but slowly the truth starts tricking out and as the the French military and government conspire to cover their tracks, they break every moral and ethical rule in the book. This is coming to an atmosphere in which nationalism, anti-German sentiment, and most-especially antisemitism are mixing toxically in France. Antisemitism which had been gradually dying down through the 19th Century violently re-awoken. Everyone in French society took a side and it re-ordered the map of the French Third Republic for the remiander of its existence. It also gave us Émile Zola's J'accuse!, which I read years ago, and which exposed in public almost the whole conspiracy. Also Chekhov was in Paris and was at Zola's trial at this time. I won't go into the whole thing here, but even though Dreyfus did eventually regain his freedom and clear his name, the rapid French nationalism would remain until at least 1962 *hint* *hint*. National Anthem of Imperial Russia Meanwhile, Czar Nicholas II decides to call a peace conference at The Hague. Not because he cares for peace, but to covertly try to stall Europe and the US while he attempts to clandestinely modernize his military--both objectives fail. Instead of preventing war, The Hague Conference of 1899 (and its follow-up in 1907) simply attempt to regulate the conduct of it. We all see the state of the Peace Movement and the founding of the Nobel Peace Prize. This chapter really crystallizes just how militantly hawkish Teddy Rosevelt and Kaiser Wilhem II (this dude!) were. Throughout this book, America wanted to grab as many colonies as possible, while Germany was doing everything it could to provoke a war somewhere. And the steady drummer marched on... National Anthem of Imperial Germany -- Tell me if this song sounds familiar to my folks from the United Kingdom. For me, the weakest chapter of this book is surprisingly the one that focuses on the events in Germany at this time. Instead of focusing on the politics it is a random biography of Richard Strauss aka the guy who wrote this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JV4Is... While it was a well-written write-up, I feel Tuchman is much better writing about politics/society/war than classical music in central Europe. It's a decent write-up, but you can get into trouble here trying to write on culture or music you like in an "objective" voice. We lean about the domestic scandals that were swirling around the Kaiser's court (mostly surrounding homosexuality) which provoked a reactionary backlash. This was an interesting chapter, I just don't know if it was fully necessary. The Internationale sung by Billy Bragg This book also does a very thorough look at the rise and fall of the Anarchist and Socialist in the lead-up to the Great War. These chapters as interesting as the one on how the principle of pure "laissez-faire" capitalism undid the British Liberal Party (the last European Liberal party to have power). I got to let Tuchman speak here:...the differences between the worker and the intellectual was ineradicable in socialism. Organized Socialism bore the name Workingmen's Association but in fact it was never any such thing. It was a movement not of, but on behalf of, the working class, and the distinctions remained basic. Although it spoke for the worker and made his wants articulate, goals and doctrine were set, and thought, energy and leadership largely supplied by, intellectuals. The working class was both client and...necessary instrument of the Overthrow of capitalism. As such it appeared as Hero; it was sentimentalized. . .[The working class] was neither all one thing nor the other;. . .The working class was no more of a piece than any other class. Socialist doctrine, however, required it to be an entity with a working-class mind, working-class voice, working-class will, working-class purpose. In fact, these were not easily ascertainable. The Socialist idealized them and to be idealized is to be overestimated.This last chapter focuses on the Socialist movement in the West, in-particular the Second International and the French socialist Jean Jaurès. We see how the German and British governments attempt to co-opt the Socilaist in their country succeeds--especially in Germany which had established Europe's first Welfare State under Bismark's premiership. German socialism becomes increasingly nationalistic while French socialism tries to moderate between Marxism and nationalism. Jaurès tries his best to be the international peace-maker of socialism, but its undercut by those two -isms: nationalism and racism. He was ever the idealist, but as Clemenceau said, it was Jaurès' fate "to preach the brotherhood of nations with such unswerving faith...that he was not daunted by the brutal reality of facts." As this chapter is titled "The Death of Jaurès" things don't get better. As the meetings of the Second International accomplish little (other than confirming the First International's banning of the anarchist) when WWI starts Jaurès is assassinated by a French nationalist after the last meeting of the Second International and the next day French soldiers are headed to the front This book was a what I've come to expect from Tuchman language-wise. It was interesting to read this after reading Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil which also recount these years. The difference is that Du Bois was a graduate student in Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany and was a visitor to Paris during The Dreyfus Affair and to England during the premiership of Lord Sailsbury so he has a lot offer which we don't get here. His feelings on the cause of WWI?:The red day dawned when the tinder was lighted in the Balkans and Austro-Hungary seized a bit which brought her a step nearer to the world's highway; she seized one bit and poised herself for another. Then came that curious chorus of challenges, those leaping suspicions, raking all causes for distrust and rivalry and hatred, but saying little of the real and greatest cause. Each nation felt its deep interests involved. But how? Not, surely, in the death of Ferdinand the Warlike; not, surely, in the old, half-forgotten revanche for Alsace-Lorraine; not even in the neutrality of Belgium. No! But in the possession of land overseas, in the right to colonies, the chance to levy endless tribute on the darker world,—on coolies in China, on starving peasants in India, on black savages in Africa, on dying South Sea Islanders, on Indians of the Amazon—all this and nothing more.Though Tuchman, writing as she was during the Civil Rights Movement, may not be quoting Du Bois her look at how nationalism and antisemitism (she makes one oblique reference to the genocide in Namibia that was carried-out by Germany) certainly points to where Du Bois was going. 19th century idealism simply could not keep-up with the reality of the 20th century. As Tuchman says: the age had a tendency "to clothe reality in sentimental garments." For the reason why I read this book, go here: https://www.instagram.com/p/Bya6sSHAG... or read the last paragraph here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... I leave this book with the French going off to war against Germany. When I read my next book in part 1 of my "Watching History Pale" series we will again be watching the French march off to war, but this time in Algeria. La Marseillaise

  12. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    We humans like to think that there are single moments in our lives and in history around which the rest of history pivots. The point of these pivots is that they explain not only what comes after, but (and not unlike my new reading glasses) also snaps into focus all that went before. Suddenly the world makes sense. Strangely enough I don't think this was the experience the world had with the First World War – although it probably ought to have been. The war was so terrible (in the sense of strik We humans like to think that there are single moments in our lives and in history around which the rest of history pivots. The point of these pivots is that they explain not only what comes after, but (and not unlike my new reading glasses) also snaps into focus all that went before. Suddenly the world makes sense. Strangely enough I don't think this was the experience the world had with the First World War – although it probably ought to have been. The war was so terrible (in the sense of striking terror in all who witnessed it) that rather than putting a clarifying lens on what had come before, it instead put rose coloured glasses on the nose of the world and people could only look back in wonder at what they now knew had been a golden age. ‘Beware golden ages’ is probably as good a motto for a historian as any other I can think up and so that can be the epigraph for this review. This is a fascinatingly interesting book discussing a fascinatingly interesting time. As she says at the start, it wouldn’t be too hard to write another book on the same period and do much the same thing as she has done here without touching on any of the subjects discussed in this particuar book. Tuchman gives us a flavour of the world in the years before the war and that helps us to get an understanding of why the war might have happened in ways that were later hidden by the rose coloured glass of what became our collective memories. This too is a period which I thought I knew things about, but one of the things I’ve found is that the interest in history is either increased or destroyed by detail. Here the detail brings to life the period and makes sense of what I had heard bits and pieces about previously, but only in sketches no bigger than thumb-nail size, rather than the lovely detail presented here. The Dreyfus Affair is an interesting case in point. I’ve known of this since my teens, I have known it centred around a Jewish military officer who had been falsely accused of something and that people nearly tore the country apart due to the injustice of the case. I knew Zola had written J’accuse, something I’ve always planned to read. I also know that Lenin referred to the case as proving that the revolution may not come about due to economic crisis, but due to political crisis. All this I knew, but what he had been accused of, why the case was so dramatic, what social forces were aligned on which sides and why, even the link to Germany in the case and how transfixed not only France, but the world became with the case, all that I knew virtually nothing at all. There is also a wonderful discussion on the young Wilhelm II of Germany that is remarkably interesting, particularly given his role later in the rush towards war. But for the rest of this review I am going to look at an idea from this book review http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... and how it fits with the problems for the Socialist movement in these pre-War years. The distinction between hope and despair is an interesting one, although as I've thought about it I’m starting to think it might not be a very useful distinction. They sound a bit like opposites, hope and despair, but are they really? What is the use of hope if it is not based on despair and can despair lead to anything other than suicide if there is no hope? The problems facing the socialists at the turn of the last century were not all that different from these questions. There is a nice line in the book where two socialists are walking down a street and one stops to put a coin in the plate of a beggar, to which his companion chides him for helping to delay the revolution. Here is the great schism in the left – the purists who saw Capitalism as an evil incapable of reform that needed to be violently removed from the face of the earth, and the reformers who saw any incremental improvement in the welfare of the working class as being justifiable on its own account. To be honest, both sides of this are equally obsessed with hope and despair – both were witnesses of the current despair, both hoped to improve the lot of those suffering, both saw the other as offering a false hope. Either a false hope in incremental improvement or a false hope in final and complete revolution. Both could look on in contempt at the other for betraying either the immediate or the long term welfare of those they sought to relieve. It is a rare thing indeed to hear people talk of social revolution today. This is something that has been left to small groups of alienated young people at university campuses, young people who, ironically enough, spend time at university to ensure they move as far from the classes they would ‘assist’ as they possibly can. This is quite a change, as prior to the war these acrimonious debates rent the movement in twain and the effects on the movement could still be felt well into the 1970s. And this is where I would like to say something about the benefits of history – what can we learn from history? I guess the first thing is that history is a series of competing narratives – just as this book is about the socialist movement tearing itself apart at the start of the last century it is also about the Anarchists preparing bombs to spark the revolution as it is about politicians and kings and businessmen and artists all seeking to leave their mark on the world and on history. But what can we say about hope and despair? Is one more a benefit than the other? Are they alternate faces on the same coin? And what about today? I guess it would be easy, if a little simpleminded, to say that the reformers won and the revolutionaries brought about horrors even worse than those they sought to replace. I say ‘simpleminded’ as I often wonder if the Russian people would have had any better a time of it if the Capitalist revolution at the start of 1917 had been successful. The ‘collectivisation of farms’ would have still needed to happen, just as it needed to happen in the rest of Europe and America – just that rather than the Kulaks being blamed and punished during this process, they would have been the ones being made rich. In equal measure there is hope and despair to be learnt from history. We can equally well show we learn and learn nothing from her pages. In whichever way you want to look at history – as a great teacher leading to the possibility of a brighter world or as Cassandra, bitterly ignored – a voice well worth listening to is Tuchman’s, another excellent book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    Barbara Tuchman is a widely respected historian, and I have always assumed I'd get around to reading all her books some day (I read two of her books in my pre- Goodreads.com days). I had not previously read The Proud Tower probably because the era prior to World War I is of limited interest to me. Things changed recently when Ken Follett came out with his book, Fall of Giants, and a book group I belong to decided to read, Edith Wharton's book The Age of Innocence. These are both fictional storie Barbara Tuchman is a widely respected historian, and I have always assumed I'd get around to reading all her books some day (I read two of her books in my pre- Goodreads.com days). I had not previously read The Proud Tower probably because the era prior to World War I is of limited interest to me. Things changed recently when Ken Follett came out with his book, Fall of Giants, and a book group I belong to decided to read, Edith Wharton's book The Age of Innocence. These are both fictional stories set in the late 19th and/or early 20th centuries. What better way to prepare myself for those books than to read Tuchman's nonfiction account of the era. World War I was so horrible that it causes many to look back on the pre-war era as being a Golden Age. The book's Foreword indicates that, "It did not seem so golden ... in the midst of it." Tuchman offers the following rule based on her research: "all statements of how lovely it was in that era made by persons contemporary with it will be found to have been made after 1914." The Proud Tower is divided into chapters of varied subjects and I've decided to give my impressions of the book by making the following short comments about each chapter Chapter 1 "The Patricians (England: 1895-1902)" is about British aristocracy of the era and focuses primarily on Prime Ministers, Salisbury and Balfour. I found this to be a boring chapter which is an indication of my interest in reading descriptions of British politians. They all seemed to convey a haughty confidence that God is an Englishman, and thus it is God's will that the British take on the white man's burden of maintaining a world wide empire. Chapter 2 "The Idea and the Deed (Anarchists: 1890-1914)" is about the terrorist of that era. Anarchists had the theory that organized government was the cause of human suffering. It follows from this belief that if sufficient chaos could be created by acts of violence to cause governments to collapse, people would be then free to live in an egalitarian utopian society. The terror caused to this end by Anarchists of this era are summarized in the following quotation from the book: "...six heads of state were assassinated for its sake in the twenty years before 1914. They were President Carnot of France in 1894, Premier Canovas of Spain in 1897, Empress Elizabeth of Austria in 1898, King Humbert of Italy in 1900, President McKinley of the United States in 1901, and another Premier of Spain, Canalejas, in 1912." Chapter 3 "End of a Dream (United States: 1890-1902)" is the story how USA caught the colonial fever and ventured into their own war of aggression in the Spanish-American War. Americans then emulated the European colonial powers by holding on to The Philippines. Chapter 4 "Give Me Combat" is an account of France 1894-1899. France's story is told largely by telling how the nation was tied up in knots from 1897 to 1899 because of the Dreyfus Affair. Anyone in France during those years who heard the term, "the affair," would have known what it meant. The Dreyfus Affair became a proxy battle for the division between the conservative and liberals of the time. ”The Revisionists, who fought for retrial, saw France as the fount of liberty, the country of light, the teacher of reason, the codifier of law, and to them the knowledge that she could have perpetrated a wrong and connived at a miscarriage of justice was insufferable. They fought for Justice. Those on the other side claimed to fight in the name of ‘Patrie’ for the preservation of the Army as the shield and protector of the nation and of the Church as the guide and instructor of its soul.” Chapter 5 "The Steady Drummer" focuses on the peace conferences held at The Hague in 1899 and 1907. The purpose of the conferences was disarmament but the best they could do was agree to very limited rules of war. The participants at the time did not know, unlike the readers of this book, that World War I was coming. In hindsight it's pretty obvious that the the conferences didn't have a chance. There are some incredible quotes from this era, one of which is listed below: "Lord Lansdowne, opposing the Old Age Pensions Bill in the House of Lords, said it would cost as much as a great war and the expense of the South African War was a better investment. ‘A war, terrible as are its consequences, has at any rate the effect of raising the moral fibre of the country …’ “ Chapter 6 titled "Neroism is in the Air" is about Germany 1890-1914 and uses Richard Strauss and his music as a primary focus while also covering others such as Kaiser Wilhem and Friedrich Nietzsche. One item that caught my attention is how Tuchman described "Also sprach Zarathustra," Op. 30 (Eng. Thus Spoke Zarathustra). It's a tone poem composed by Richard Strauss in 1896 inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophical treatise of the same name. What I found interesting is that Tuchman was writing in the mid 1960s and thus couldn't do what any writer after 1968 would have done and refer to it as the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey." So how does one describe it when you can't refer to the movie? "Trumpets sounded the opening, swelling into an immense orchestral paean by the whole ensemble which seemed to depict less the sunrise stated in the program notes than the creation of the world. Its magnificence was breathtaking." Chapter 7 titled "Transfer of Power (England: 1902-1911)" tells the story of the beginnings of the Labor Party and the ascendance of the Liberal Party in England. This chapter describes the long tortured path toward passage of the Parliament Bill that limited the veto power of the House of Lords. At the time of its passage some considered it akin to near revolution, but in the end it hardly made a ripple of change. Chapter 8, "The Death of Jaures (The Socialists: 1890-1914)" is about the Socialist and Labor movments of the time. Jean Jaurès who's name is in the chapter title was a French Socialist leader. He was an antimilitarist and was assassinated at the outbreak of World War I by a French nationalist. His death is symbolic of how the socialist cause was swallowed up the World War I. Some Socialists had theorized prior to WWI that future wars would be prevented because of organized labor's international spirit of brotherhood of workers. We all know how wrong that theory turned out to be. The following quotation from the book caught my eye as one of the more astounding comments. "While campaigning for McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt said in a private conversation, 'The sentiment now animating a large proportion of our people can only be suppressed as the Commune was suppressed, by taking ten or a dozen of their leaders out, standing them against a wall and shooting them dead. I believe it will come to that. These leaders are plotting a social revolution and the subversion of the American Republic.' " TR was referring to the Socialist Party of America and their presidential candidate, Eugene Debs. The following link is to an excerpt from this book about the tactics of suffragettes in Britton. 3/12/20: http://eepurl.com/gVWt6T ______________ The following didn't come from this book. However, it's interesting information that I recently read about happenings in this era which I feel compelled to share with those who read my reviews: Aspirin came into being in the late 1890s when Bayer in Germany began distributing it in powder form. One patient who should not have been taking aspirin was young Alexei Nicholaevich Romanov of Russia, who had hemophilia. Aspirin would make the bleeding in this disorder worse, but the imperial doctors likely gave the boy this new wonder drug without knowing. Alexei, son of the last czar, probably improved because the mystic Grigori Rasputin told the boy's mother to stop modern treatments and instead rely on spiritual healing. Rasputin's influence on the Romanov family may have contributed to the uprising against them, making aspirin a possible player in their murder and in the end of czarist Russia.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    This is another outstanding book by Barbara Tuchman. It paints a vivid and fascinating picture of the world in the period before World War 1. I think she manages to avoid the obvious danger of seeing everything through the lens created by our modern perspective, knowing, as we do now, that the War was coming and that it would change everything about the world forever. The descriptions of society in Britain, the US, and in particular France (I found the in-depth explanation of the Dreyfus affair This is another outstanding book by Barbara Tuchman. It paints a vivid and fascinating picture of the world in the period before World War 1. I think she manages to avoid the obvious danger of seeing everything through the lens created by our modern perspective, knowing, as we do now, that the War was coming and that it would change everything about the world forever. The descriptions of society in Britain, the US, and in particular France (I found the in-depth explanation of the Dreyfus affair to be particularly fascinating) are all incredibly illuminating. There is also a chapter devoted to the issue of Anarchism and its importance in Europe (and the US). We tend to forget just how many political leaders were assassinated during that period, and the important effect these actions had on society. My only real complaint is that she focuses almost exclusively on Europe and the US. Obviously, there is much more to the World than this, and more about Russia, the Far East, Africa and the Middle East would be nice (along with South America). However, given where WW1 would take place and the actors involved, it's not surprising that she focuses where she does. All in all this is a fascinating book and one that should ideally be read by anyone planning on opining about the period or its cultural and historical heritage.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brad Lyerla

    Europeans (and some Americans) who were alive as the 19th century came to a close were aware that they were living in a unique time. The French even coined a term for it, fin de siècle. In her foreword, Tuchman notes that fin de siècle often connotes decadence, but she explains that western society was not decaying so much as it was “bursting with new tensions and accumulated energies” as the 19th century closed and the 20th century began. THE PROUD TOWER is Tuchman’s account of these new tensio Europeans (and some Americans) who were alive as the 19th century came to a close were aware that they were living in a unique time. The French even coined a term for it, fin de siècle. In her foreword, Tuchman notes that fin de siècle often connotes decadence, but she explains that western society was not decaying so much as it was “bursting with new tensions and accumulated energies” as the 19th century closed and the 20th century began. THE PROUD TOWER is Tuchman’s account of these new tensions and energies and it is a fine book. Tuchman organizes her book into eight chapters and they are a handy way to discuss THE PROUD TOWER. Chapter one is The Patricians. By this, Tuchman refers to the ruling class in the British Empire, the leading power in the world at that time. The Victorian Age was coming to a close, but the Conservatives were still very much in control as Tuchman opens her discussion. She focuses on Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour and their contemporaries. These were men of wealth, education and accomplishment in business, government, war and learning. They enjoyed a clarity of purpose that ceased to exist in the 20th century. That is not to say that they were right. Rather, they never doubted that they were right and sometimes they were. Of course, there was a great deal of hypocrisy. The Victorian Age is thought of by some today as a time of prudishness. That may have been the case for the middle class, but not at all for the privileged. Many of them enjoyed themselves greedily and sensually while feigning dignity and restraint for the benefit of the masses. Chapter two focuses on the Anarchists in Europe and America. They are a curiosity to us today. While they had an impact in their day through their great acts of terrorism (the assassination of President McKinley, for example), their influence was brief. Anarchism simply cannot take root given its abhorrence of organization. And it faded away by the end of the Great War. The third chapter is about the transformation of the US from a country that espoused the right of self-government and distrusted the colonial activities of the European powers to a country that actively embraced Imperialism and began its own empire initially through the Spanish American war. It is sobering to be reminded that it was the progressives who advocated imperial ambitions for the US against the better judgment of the conservatives. Of course, today our country has isolationists on both ends of the political spectrum. Theirs is an isolationism that is premised on self-interest rather than respect for the right of others to self-government. Tuchman does not address this modern sense of isolationism and, if it did exist, it seems not to have been influential during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The fourth chapter addresses The Dreyfus Affair in France. THE PROUD TOWER effectively conveys how this shameful episode captured the attention of the entire western world and deeply undermined the prestige of the French in the international community. Chapter five, entitled The Steady Drummer, is about the international peace efforts, ironically started by Czar Nicholas, that resulted in the Hague Conventions and the establishment of The World Court. The Czar’s motivation was not altruistic. He hoped to slow down the arms race then happening in Europe because Russia was hopelessly behind and he wanted time to catch up. Chapter six is about the rise of Germany. Tuchman gives a great deal of attention to the arts in Germany and the accomplishments of Richard Strauss in particular. This is helpful to understanding Germany’s zeitgeist, but far more important to Europe’s story is the rise of militarism and the sense of cultural superiority among Germans during this period. Long before the Great War, Germans seem to have taken it for granted that war was unavoidable and that Germany would emerge from war in its rightful place as the dominant country and culture in Europe. The seventh chapter is about the transfer of power in the United Kingdom from Balfour and the conservatives to Asquith and the liberals, which included the rise of the labor party and its support of home rule for Ireland. This was the period in which the House of Lords lost its last meaningful role in British government. It is also a time that is of special interest to us today. This seems to have been when the Brits lost confidence in the ability of their government to solve the deeply tangled social and economic problems then facing the United Kingdom. Great Britain was changed forever after that crisis of confidence was felt, although fortunately there was still enough of the 19th century left in Winston Churchill that he had the clarity to lead his countrymen through the Second World War when his time came. The final chapter addresses the rise and fall of international socialism. It arose and prospered in the late 19th century, at least among intellectuals like the Fabians, for example. But it lost coherence and energy as its leaders died in the early decades of the new century. Of course, it later lost all viability in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution. We know now that the world was never the same again after the Great War. The rise of relativity, incompleteness, ambiguity and indecision in the 20th century transformed everything. Tuchman’s portrait of the west in the period immediately before the transformation is intellectually provocative and highly entertaining.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    I finished this book mostly out of moral obligation. You get to read about the anarchists, socialists, and upper 1% right before WWI. The Dreyfus affair was kind of interesting. It was like each, very long, chapter was a book in itself. I was hoping to get insight into Eastern-Europe (e.g. the Austrian Empire and Bohemia and Poland), but there was nothing there.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Tim Robinson

    Fascinating, authoritative, relevant, sweeping, insightful, well written, magisterial, and far too long.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Evan Leach

    In The Proud Tower, historian extraordinaire Barbara Tuchman takes on the 25 years leading up to World War I. Focusing on events in England, France, Germany, the U.S. and (to a lesser extent) the rest of the West from 1890-1914, Tuchman presents eight essays that, taken together, provide a revealing look at the “Gilded Age.” The Patricians – England: 1895-1902 The first of two essays focusing on England, The Patricians presents the world of the top 1% in all of its shameless, decadent, nineteenth In The Proud Tower, historian extraordinaire Barbara Tuchman takes on the 25 years leading up to World War I. Focusing on events in England, France, Germany, the U.S. and (to a lesser extent) the rest of the West from 1890-1914, Tuchman presents eight essays that, taken together, provide a revealing look at the “Gilded Age.” The Patricians – England: 1895-1902 The first of two essays focusing on England, The Patricians presents the world of the top 1% in all of its shameless, decadent, nineteenth century glory. I think this material (the English aristocracy) will be pretty familiar to most readers, but Tuchman’s detailed research is still a real treat. From their obsessions with hunting and horses to their disdain for the “common” man, many of the characters in this essay would have happily fit into the Elizabethan era with little more than a change of clothing. Tuchman wisely puts this chapter first in order to show how, at least at the top of the pyramid, life at the end of the 19th century was not all that different from life hundreds of years ago. But within a generation, that would all change. The Idea and the Deed – The Anarchists: 1890-1914 Unfortunately, one of the downsides of having a wealthy, all-powerful aristocracy is that you’re going to have some pretty miserable people among the other 99%. From 1890-1914, the multitude struck back, murdering a number of princes, princesses, and other heads of state. Even an American President went down in the name of the cause. The Anarchists of the Gilded Age were similar to the Socialists in that they were dedicated to the destruction of the current social order. However, they rejected any real organization entirely, believing instead that “the deed” (high-profile killings) repeated enough times would somehow cause the current system to collapse within itself. For me, the surprise in this essay was how many people were willing to martyr themselves for such a nebulous and seemingly aimless cause – under the gilding, the wood was rotting. End of a Dream – The United States: 1890-1902 The focus of this chapter is the political shift in U.S. politics from isolationism to a player on the world stage. There is some interesting stuff here, but I thought Thomas Reed completely stole the show. Reed was Speaker of the House for much of the 1890’s, and managed to break the power of the absent quorum (a goofy rule where the minority party could block House business by simply refusing to say anything when their name was called under quorum call and thereby avoid being counted). The fact that the House managed to get anything done at all in its first century of existence with this power on the books is amazing, and I thought this section of the essay was the most riveting reading. “Give Me Combat!” – France: 1894-99 This essay was considerably more depressing. Basically, a French officer was sentenced to life after being convicted of treason. When it became clear within two years that the officer (Dreyfuss) was innocent, and another man was the real criminal, for some reason the French military decided to cover everything up. It gradually became clearer and clearer to the public at large that Dreyfuss was not a traitor, but the military refused to back down. Making things more complicated were the French people’s almost reverential regard for their military (despite/because of some relatively recent humiliating defeats) and Dreyfuss’ Jewish ancestry. Basically, the whole affair is a cautionary story about the dangers of nationalism. The incident was an international embarrassment for France, as other European powers couldn’t believe that the French government would allow an obviously innocent man to languish in prison for life just so its military leaders could save face. Dreyfuss was not officially exonerated for over 10 years, and the scandal was the talk of Europe. Depressing, but I knew nothing about this and it was a fascinating read. The Steady Drummer – The Hague: 1899 and 1907 The U.N. before the U.N., essentially. The major powers gathered to discuss disarmament and arbitration; partly because they were growing worried about the capacity for destruction new armaments had unleashed, and partly because they were worried that if they blew it off, the growing Socialist powers would declare their governments ineffective. The participants set about drafting international rules for warfare with gusto, but had little interest in seriously contemplating the big issues. While world leaders were growing wary about advances in military technology, it wasn’t until the new weaponry was actually unleashed in 1914 that anyone truly realized that the game had changed. “Neroism Is In the Air” – Germany: 1890-1914 The German chapter, interestingly, focuses on German culture over politics during the 25 years at issue, particularly the German music scene and Richard Strauss. I’m not sure that this essay will be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Transfer of Power – England: 1902-11 In the 20 years from 1890 to 1910, there was a fundamental shift in English politics. The working class gained considerable political power, and under the Asquith Government the House of Lords saw much of its power stripped away in 1911. A strong essay, and a striking one when compared to the first essay in this book, set a single generation before. The Death of Jaurès – The Socialists: 1890-1914 The book closes with the rise of socialism. Socialism is a dirty word in the U.S. today, but after reading the previous seven essays it is easy to understand why many citizens found themselves disillusioned by the current social order and were ready to embrace radical change. The contours of the movement differed from country to country, but the socialists achieved considerable power during this era and those of them who were willing to work within the system (to a degree) forced through some badly-needed reforms, like restrictions on child labor and limits to working hours. But the chapter ends in tragedy. Many socialists believed that workers would cling to universal proletarian brotherhood in the lead up to WWI, and refuse to fight, but when the call to arms rang out the workers marched to the front with as much gusto as the other classes. As WWI began, Jaurès was dead, and nationalism had trumped socialism after all. Final Verdict I am a big fan of Tuchman’s work, and this is one of her best efforts. The era from 1890-1914 was really the last gasp of the old world; by the end of World War I there were millions of casualties, including Europe’s sense of optimism: ”The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other's company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, ‘With emotion, to the man I used to be.’” 4.5 stars, highly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    I am convinced of that Barbara W. Tuchman could draw lasting principles about the behavior of humanity from a trip to the grocery store and could make understated comments on the folly revealed which are more and more penetrating as time passes. Couple that skill with the transformation so many have noted between 1890 and 1914, and we have a book that almost anyone would find worth reading. I doubt anyone else could have organized such a vast amount of material from a quarter-century and from so I am convinced of that Barbara W. Tuchman could draw lasting principles about the behavior of humanity from a trip to the grocery store and could make understated comments on the folly revealed which are more and more penetrating as time passes. Couple that skill with the transformation so many have noted between 1890 and 1914, and we have a book that almost anyone would find worth reading. I doubt anyone else could have organized such a vast amount of material from a quarter-century and from so many parts of the West into an understandable narrative which could stand the test of time, but she has.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    Written in 1962 about the period, approximately 1890-1914, leading to the start of WWI. Reading it now is at once surprising, and yet not, that despite the passage of 120+ years, two world wars as well as other numerous conflicts, many of the same issues and fights covered by Barbara Tuchman's excellent history still persist today. Nationalism, terrorism, the battles for a living wage, the richest in society against the rest, income inequality, us versus the foreigner, the blind stumbles into co Written in 1962 about the period, approximately 1890-1914, leading to the start of WWI. Reading it now is at once surprising, and yet not, that despite the passage of 120+ years, two world wars as well as other numerous conflicts, many of the same issues and fights covered by Barbara Tuchman's excellent history still persist today. Nationalism, terrorism, the battles for a living wage, the richest in society against the rest, income inequality, us versus the foreigner, the blind stumbles into conflict; it's still with us.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    In a prequel to The Guns of August, Tuchman examines the sociopolitical world of Europe and America leading up to World War I. Unlike Guns’ narrative approach, Tower offers a series of interlocking essays probing the world’s major powers. Thus she looks at Edwardian Britain, its class system and politics ossified in late-imperial smugness and struggling to respond to colonial wars, Irish nationalism and labor and suffragist unrest; France, whose deep-rooted social, religious and cultural divisio In a prequel to The Guns of August, Tuchman examines the sociopolitical world of Europe and America leading up to World War I. Unlike Guns’ narrative approach, Tower offers a series of interlocking essays probing the world’s major powers. Thus she looks at Edwardian Britain, its class system and politics ossified in late-imperial smugness and struggling to respond to colonial wars, Irish nationalism and labor and suffragist unrest; France, whose deep-rooted social, religious and cultural divisions are stoked to the boiling point by the Dreyfus Affair; Imperial Germany, with its contrast between artistic and intellectual achievements and bellicose, warmongering leaders; and America, suddenly thrust into imperial status after a victorious war with Spain. All these countries challenge each other over military expansion, colonial possessions and long-lasting grudges, in a series of power plays (from gunboat diplomacy and terrorism to sham peace conferences) that make war inevitable. Tuchman handles these topics with remarkable skill and insight, with a hundred mini-portraits of statesmen, diplomats, soldiers, aristocrats, media figures and others enlivening her narrative. Her deft use of specific incidents and social strictures leads to chapters that, if not as inclusive as a more scholarly treatment, nonetheless illuminate the motivations of countries jostling for power better than a simple name-and-date approach. The essays dealing with broader movements (particularly Tuchman’s chapter on turn-of-the-century anarchism) often feel shallow and amorphous in comparison, with Tuchman lacking the insight into radicalism and bottom-up social movements that she shows with politics and diplomacy. In that sense, Tower is very old-fashioned; nonetheless, it does a fine job showing how the Great Powers laid the groundwork, both by accident and design, for history’s two most catastrophic wars.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    This book consists of eight sections, or as the title suggests – portraits. They are uneven in scope and not that inter-connected. One of the strongest ones is on the Dreyfus affair in France and it is full of passion as one would expect. Ms. Tuchman gives a stupendous view of the colliding forces at work. There is also one chapter on the Anarchist movement with an intriguing analysis of these rather eccentric and misguided people. The last chapter is on “International Communism” with a good expo This book consists of eight sections, or as the title suggests – portraits. They are uneven in scope and not that inter-connected. One of the strongest ones is on the Dreyfus affair in France and it is full of passion as one would expect. Ms. Tuchman gives a stupendous view of the colliding forces at work. There is also one chapter on the Anarchist movement with an intriguing analysis of these rather eccentric and misguided people. The last chapter is on “International Communism” with a good exposition of the trumping of nationalist borders over the Marxist myth of the “unity of the working class”. The section on the emergence of the Labour Party in England along with the fading of the English aristocracy was also of interest. The discussion of internal opposition to U.S. expansionism and imperialism to Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii seemed to miss an essential point that the U.S. has always been expansionist. One has only to look at the sorry plight of the American Indians whose land was stolen and who were either killed or forced to settle on small reservations. Nevertheless some interesting points were made. There is a considerable amount of name-dropping through-out which made reading tedious at times. The section on Germany was mostly on Richard Strauss at the cost of giving a fuller picture of life in this significant country. The first chapter on the English aristocracy was dry and lacked substance. But to emphasize the good over the bad – the section on the first disarmament talks at The Hague were wonderful and we get a vivid picture of the conflicting nations and personalities involved. All-in-all I felt the book uneven. A more recent book “The Vertigo Years” by Philipp Blom also discusses this era from the same point of view – the lives of people prior to the Great Catastrophe of 1914.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    “See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it – a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (1933). It’s not just us who find the Great War inexplicable; within a few years of its ending people “See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it – a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (1933). It’s not just us who find the Great War inexplicable; within a few years of its ending people were already looking back in amazement that so many had so much faith in their leaders that they were willing to march off to their deaths by the millions. How did it happen? How could it happen? As L. P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country.” To understand the pre-war world you need a guide, and there is none better than Barbara Tuchman. Most people have a hazy image of the world from the 1890s till the start of the war that consists of men in straw boaters riding bicycles with huge front tires who always seem to be at a picnic somewhere. It was in fact a time of great social and political ferment, of anarchist bombings and violent strikes. Literacy rates were up, so more people could understand political arguments, and increasing income disparity fed resentment and calls for change. The Proud Tower recounts this era via a series of eight loosely connected chapters. The first looks at aristocratic England of this period. These days it is hard to believe there was a time when people expected their leaders to be intelligent, highly educated, and well versed in philosophy and history. Many of our leaders today probably couldn’t spell the word history. And yet, for all their fine qualities, they were blinded by their class prejudices, so certain they knew what was right that they resisted all attempts to shed fresh light on the complicated issues of the day. The next chapter looks at anarchism, which nowadays we tend to associate with bomb throwing nihilists. Although there were plenty of those, just as today’s religious extremists never lack for suicide bomber volunteers, in fact it had a long history behind it of thoughtful theory, brilliantly expounded by men like Mikhail Bakunin. Of all the possible futures it was anarchism that proposed the most radical changes, which would have led to the end of nation states, religions, all but local economies, and of course, the end of war. It was the bomb throwers who captured the public’s attention, however, and led to revulsion against what came to seem like a philosophy of mindless violence. Next is the story of the United States’ emergence as a player on the world stage. Many felt that the country betrayed its core principles by becoming an imperial power after the defeat of Spain in 1898 and the annexation of its overseas territories. They might have won that argument except for one of those inflection points of history. In 1890 Alfred Thayer Mahan had published The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783, which had a big impact on strategic thinking in countries around the globe. It led the Kaiser to believe he needed a fleet large enough to challenge Britain, and it led the United States to decide that it should keep the new-won overseas possessions to use as bases and refueling stations for its own growing naval ambitions. The next chapter is about the Dreyfus affair in France. It gives the outlines of the case, but this subject needs a full book to itself. I would recommend For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus, by Frederick Brown. It beggars the imagination that something like this could have happened; the French military knew Dreyfus was innocent, and they quickly discovered the man who was most likely the real spy, but antisemitism and a bizarre stiff-necked sense of pride led them to continue the prosecution. They claimed to have concrete evidence showing his guilt, but refused to present it, and when finally forced to it turned out to be nothing at all. And then they still pressed on, claiming the honor of the French army was at stake, a grotesque claim considering the prosecution of a known innocent man had already shown the generals to be honorless. It was a sad story for a nation with a proud history of defending justice, and it did France great credit that the truth was finally revealed, but to this day there are still those in French conservative circles who defend the Army’s claims against Dreyfus. The next chapter looks at the early attempts at disarmament, with conferences at the Hague in 1899 and 1907. There was a great deal of high flown rhetoric and many sincere participants, but the gimlet-eyed political and military leaders of the participating countries had no intention of negotiating away any of their military advantages. Trying to prevent war is always something worth doing, but these conferences did nothing to stop the coming apocalypse. The following chapter seems to have come from a different book. It was as if Tuchman had written it for some other purpose, and decided to add it here simply because its time frame was chronologically consistent with the other chapters. It is primarily about the composer Richard Strauss, although it also discusses other people of the time, and while it is interesting it does not shed much light on the book’s main thesis. Next is an examination of the difficult, protracted fight in England to reduce the power of the House of Lords, which was not just conservative but reactionary, and had repeatedly used its veto to prevent legislation that attempted to redress political, social, and economic injustices. The Lords did not go quietly, and were only forced into reluctant acquiescence by the threat of being neutered completely. And finally, there is a chapter about the death of Jean Jaurès on July 31st 1914, someone who deserves to be better remembered. He was a man of peace but a fighter for the rights of the workers. He was smart, articulate, and not fooled at all by patriotic humbug. Jaurès might have been the only person who could have stopped the war, by appealing to the people not to fight and reminding them that as working men they had far more in common with the lowly soldiers of Germany than they did with their own generals and leaders. His assassination was another inflection point in history, ending any chance that there would be significant resistance to mobilization and war. It is hard to believe now that Tuchman was once dismissed by professional historians as an amateur. There was probably some wounded pride there when her books became best sellers. She now holds a distinguished place among 20th century history authors, with works such as A Distant Mirror, and The Guns of August. Her books were meticulously researched, and she wrote in an easy conversational style. Highly recommended.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Clif

    This is a book that I read many years ago, liked enough to keep and have now had time to re-read. Though we think of our own time as one of great change, there was a feeling in the air at the end of the 19th century that will never again be experienced. It was a combination of innocence, wonder and anxiety produced by capitalism as technology and industry recreated the world. The innocence came from a still powerful religious sense along with a strong idea of how things should be. But the lives pe This is a book that I read many years ago, liked enough to keep and have now had time to re-read. Though we think of our own time as one of great change, there was a feeling in the air at the end of the 19th century that will never again be experienced. It was a combination of innocence, wonder and anxiety produced by capitalism as technology and industry recreated the world. The innocence came from a still powerful religious sense along with a strong idea of how things should be. But the lives people were living were not what tradition had provided before. Hard work didn't necessarily bring anything beyond more hard work. What was a man when at the mercy of machines? There could be no going back, yet the future looked very dim for those who toiled under the dictates of the factory system. The small but rapidly growing middle class of owners was usurping the status of the landed gentry, so things didn't look good from the top down or the bottom up. Yet the wealth being gathered by the merchants and colonizers created an irrepressible energy whose wondrous output dazzled everyone. The Proud Tower approaches the period from several points of view to give us the feel of fabulous wealth, terrible deprivation, political ambition, visions of social transformation, national pride and imperialism. Tuchman takes us into European parliaments and Congress as governments and palaces struggle to deal with changes over which they have limited control. We also go into the workings of the Marxists and anarchists who dream of coming change while differing on whether to simply wait for it to happen, push it into being, or cooperate with the capitalist system to bring modifications that could improve the lives of the working people. Vivid personal portraits and strong opinions profoundly expressed give the pulse of humanity. We go to the symphony and opera to feel the power of emotion expressed in the wildly romantic works of Richard Strauss, the supreme artist of the day. I was inspired to run out and get his opera, Salome, on CD at the library to hear what Tuchman so vividly describes. And we read of the work of Nijinsky, Nietzsche and Wilde as they shock the sensibilities of the time. Of course, readers know that the period will end at the start of WW1, but this book does such a great job of recreating the pre-war atmosphere that the disillusion the war brought, with mechanized killing splashing the blood of millions on the hopes that had been kindled, can be more fully appreciated.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert Isenberg

    Ever wary of the Edwardians, I knew that Barbara Tuchman could enliven this dreary industrial period. And my, did she ever: The story of English nobility, mad anarchists, high-minded Socialists and the throbbing heart of impending war all become glaring signs of the world's most pointless and catastrophic olympiad. One can see the origins of German nationalism, the symptoms of French self-importance (by way of the Dreyfus Affair), and the transformation of America from a philosophical experiment Ever wary of the Edwardians, I knew that Barbara Tuchman could enliven this dreary industrial period. And my, did she ever: The story of English nobility, mad anarchists, high-minded Socialists and the throbbing heart of impending war all become glaring signs of the world's most pointless and catastrophic olympiad. One can see the origins of German nationalism, the symptoms of French self-importance (by way of the Dreyfus Affair), and the transformation of America from a philosophical experiment into a land-grabbing behemoth. A congressman's most innocent remark becomes internationally significant under Tuchman's refined lens. "The Proud Tower" does not surpass "A Distant Mirror," but its importance is far more obvious; it becomes apparent how the last decade of the 19th century set the stage for the entire 20th. Tuchman has a pessimistic streak -- there are few admirable characters in her historians, only bumblers and blowhards -- but she shows affection, despite herself, for such characters as Richard Strauss and Monsieur Comerade Jaures. The book's most shocking aspect: The era of its writing, in the early 1960's. Tuchman may have felt skeptical of heroes, but she is quickly becoming one of mine.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Genia Lukin

    Tuchman, as usual, is incisive and sharp in the best sense of these words. The book was not quite as fascinating to me as Guns of August has been, but then, that is really not much of a criticism, as Guns of August is a book one produces once a lifetime. This book surveys the portrait of Europe and America before the First World War; it presents chapters on England, the Socialists, the Anarchists, a chapter on the Dreyfus affair, and another on German music and culture. It presents a world both v Tuchman, as usual, is incisive and sharp in the best sense of these words. The book was not quite as fascinating to me as Guns of August has been, but then, that is really not much of a criticism, as Guns of August is a book one produces once a lifetime. This book surveys the portrait of Europe and America before the First World War; it presents chapters on England, the Socialists, the Anarchists, a chapter on the Dreyfus affair, and another on German music and culture. It presents a world both very similar and very different from the world today. everything seems more impassioned, ideals seem larger than life, social storms are stormier, and the upheavals of society are more powerful. Tuchman manages to bring it to life without sparing anyone or anything one of the funniest and most precise wits in the historical profession. The prose is as always clear and organized, the situations carefully and meticulously handled, with a large amount of nuance and objectivity that is creating levels of complexity difficult to encounter elsewhere. Excellent book for anyone interested in the period or in the changes that came over that world after the Great War.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This was the first book I ever read about Europe just prior to the first world war. Tuchman's accessible style and choice of topics representative of the period inspired the reading of her book about the onset of the war itself, The Guns of August, immediately thereafter. Decades later, in 1990, I reread the thing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    This book just wasn't very interesting unfortunately. I had thought that that it would be a little more closely connected to the events that eventually led up to the First World War. The section on anarchists was interesting and so was the part about the Dreyfus Affair and the first peace/demilitarization conferences but most of the rest just bored me to tears.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kent

    I'm hesitating between a simple recommendation: "This was tremendous. Go forth and read ye likewise," and a more voluminous splatter of opinions and unhelpful comments. No, actually, I'm not hesitating. The choice is simple. Tuchman's object is to reveal the last decade or two of the Christendom, its pillars and its dynamiters. She covers the magnificent aristocracy of England in the first chapter. In their contempt of ideology the House of Lords were very Burkean, and incidentally reminded me a g I'm hesitating between a simple recommendation: "This was tremendous. Go forth and read ye likewise," and a more voluminous splatter of opinions and unhelpful comments. No, actually, I'm not hesitating. The choice is simple. Tuchman's object is to reveal the last decade or two of the Christendom, its pillars and its dynamiters. She covers the magnificent aristocracy of England in the first chapter. In their contempt of ideology the House of Lords were very Burkean, and incidentally reminded me a great deal of the aristocratical/agrarian society advocated in "I'll Take My Stand." (This kind of society really did exist once. For almost a thousand years, in fact.) But in the midst of the Edenic garden of the British peers lurked a (you guessed it) snake. Sssss. Viz., the commoners were disposed to be fractious at this point in history, owing to discontent with grueling hours, cruel treatment, and hellish living conditions. The reaction to these wrongs is covered in Tuchman's chapters on Anarchism and Socialism. In fact, by this time all of Christendom was in tension between two opposite ways of life. The aristocracy had come into existence in the Middle Ages, assuming naturally the role of governing over (and for) the lower classes. As feudalism goes, they carried out their role of protection and provision that the lower classes desperately needed, and in return the peasants gave them loyalty and service. When the industrial revolution and the rise of the middle class came along, the stable system of peasantry, after a millennia or more, disappeared. They were drawn from the farm to the factory, and there enslaved to a degree unimaginable in centuries past. Allured by wealth, the aristocrats abdicated their role of protection. They endeavored to reap the benefits of industrialism without suffering its consequences. They embraced the smoke and gears that brought them wealth, and in due time the filth and mechanicry destroyed their green fields and organic institutions. They supped with the devil, and their spoon was too short. The imbalance between the Edenic gardens of the nobles and the infernal machinery of the cities was too great. Something had to give, and it did. Prophets of doom like Marx sounded the trumpet, and laborers by the thousands joined the standard of Socialism. They marched, denounced, rioted, and struck. More sinster yet were the Anarchists. They bombed, stabbed, and shot in heroical efforts to ring in the millennium of communism and fraternity. It seemed like all of Europe was facing a French Revolution that could only end it revolt and death. Oddly enough, it didn't happen. "The worker" Marx said, "has no Fatherland." Actually, he did. Nationalism proved stronger than socialism. Kaiser's messianic blustering, the inferiority complex of the French--Britain's blind conservatism, and America's secular millennialism, actually destroyed Christendom. When the guns of August roared, the international workers of the world found the pull of the Fatherland was stronger, after all. Swamped in stupid pride, like Cadmus's army raised from dragon's teeth, the nations of Europe fell on each other and fought till they were dead. And we, like Cadmus, wait hopefully for a remnant of five to found a new civilisation.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bryan--Pumpkin Connoisseur

    I had looked forward to reading this for quite some time, but now that I have finally gotten around to it, I'm feeling the effect of my high expectations. Tuchman seems best, to me, when she's describing an event, as in The Zimmermann Telegram; and although the individual chapters of The Proud Tower occasionally had the same kind of narrative thrust, overall, the 'portrait' style that she uses here does not seem to maximize her talent as an author. The fact is, there is no single 'story' to tell I had looked forward to reading this for quite some time, but now that I have finally gotten around to it, I'm feeling the effect of my high expectations. Tuchman seems best, to me, when she's describing an event, as in The Zimmermann Telegram; and although the individual chapters of The Proud Tower occasionally had the same kind of narrative thrust, overall, the 'portrait' style that she uses here does not seem to maximize her talent as an author. The fact is, there is no single 'story' to tell when covering this period. Or maybe it is all one story, but with such a large cast that it would fill multiple volumes. (And Tuchman admits, in her forward, that she could easily have written one or two more books with the research she did for this one) At any rate, given the nature of the task that she set for herself, the book is a success, and entertaining to read. Because it is episodic though, I thought it somewhat hit-or-miss. The first chapter, describing the English upper class and aristocracy was little more than a parade of names to me. The second, covering the rise of anarchy and syndicalism, was better, and I really enjoyed the third, covering America's rush to Empire. The fourth went into some depth about the Dreyfus affair, and anyone thinking that the divisiveness we are experiencing in America now--2017--is anything new should definitely read about France during the Dreyfus Affair. The peace initiatives at the Hague before and after the turn of the century (ch.5), the rise of militarism in Germany (ch.6), the transfer of power from the English upper class to the Labour and the Liberal parties (ch.7) and the efforts of Socialism before the war (ch.8) all had more of that narrative feel about them, and were, to me, absorbing. What I takeaway from the book is Ms. Tuchman's contention that the world before the war was not a static, ethereal place, like an impressionist painting, which was overwhelmingly light and airy and filled with the promise of progress. It was, rather, an extremely contentious time, and a miserable time for a great many people. A period where forces that had been advocating for change since 1848 and before were finally realizing some of their goals, though entrenched power was still fighting back. It is a portrait of a world which one can see that the war was, if not inevitable, then at least not improbable, rather than a world which was saddled with the conflict as if it had come from out of the blue. To anyone with a passing interest in this time, I'd say Tuchman's book is an excellent place to start--it will either satisfy the urge, or point to other directions for further study. Those who have already read very much covering this time period may find it too much of a glancing overview.

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