Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Practicing History

Practicing HistoryPracticing History 
by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a bit of a hodge-podge as it includes essays on how to be an historian as well as essays about various historical issues. All of it is fascinating. Tuchman's style is clear and concise, but elegant in the choice of language. It is also filled with asides, many of them rather sharp, on the events being discussed.
"'One threat' to leave France to face Germany alone might have brought Clemenceau 'to compromise' (which suggests a capacious ignorance of the Tiger)." --from a review of a book on Woodrow Wilson, p. 155
I love the phrase 'capacious ignorance'. The essays on Israel, written at a point when its future existence was by no means certain, gave me a new perspective on the current state. The final section of the book is brief pieces, some articles and some speeches, that are contemporaneous with the events they discuss (the Vietnam war and the Nixon administration mostly). I was struck by the fact that many of her concerns about the direction American government was headed, have been borne out in the years since. 

As a resource on how to write history and biography there is a lot of useful information here.
"The problem is how and what to select out of all that happened without, by the very process of selection, giving an over- or under-emphasis which violates truth. One cannot put in everything: The result would be a shapeless mass. The job is to achieve a narrative line without straying from the essential facts or leaving out any essential facts and without twisting the material to suit one's convenience. To do so is a temptation, but if you do it with history you invariably get tripped up by later events." -from "The Historian as Artist" p. 49
The essays are also peppered with inspiration on life in general.
"Since life is only fun when you attempt something a little beyond your reach, I will proceed..." - from an address to the US Army War College on Generalship, p. 276
 I am counting this book toward the 2018 Nonfiction Reading Challenge.

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