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Regarding Ms. Tuchman

Barbara Tuchman was the best historian of the century - and one of the best writers in the language

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, February 08, 1989.

I just want to say that Barbara Tuchman was not just one of my favorite historians - although she was - but that by any criteria she was an excellent, gifted, and underrated author. The latter seems rather a silly bit of praise - seeing as how she is widely acclaimed as a writer - but I contend she yet remains underrated. There is a paragraph in the study of Joseph Stilwell that so succinctly explains the British Empire it defeats the need for further explanation or description. It is writing so perfect, so accurate, so tuned to sing in memory of the casual reader that it seems calibrated by divine will to be understood. Barbara Tuchman pales all historians back to McCauley, and her detractors - mostly historians, male, workaholics and passed over by the Angel of Talent - fume deep with envy.

Tuchman loved men, and men of a certain type. Each of her books is hooked to a strong man, usually civilized, aristocratic, subject to the faults of his class but imbued with the genuine noblesse oblige of his time. In the Guns of August, it was Edward VII and a French General whose name eludes me but who won the first Battle of the Marne under Joffre. In the Proud Tower, it was Arthur Balfour and Thomas Reed. In Stillwell, the protagonist. A Distant Mirror had Lord Coucy.

Tuchman was always able to deflect or hide her enthusiasms, but in a way that channeled her readers to the same conclusions. I would have loved to have known her and be able to hear her speak over dinner. Just chat. I cannot think of many writers, much less historians, that I would want as a friend, but I consider it my deprivation she was not. Does it sound like I had a crush on her? You bet. She fascinated me as much as Balfour did her.

All of which proves two things. Tuchman had good taste in men, and I, and million others, have good taste in women. That’s a minority way to view the study of history, but that was Tuchman’s gift. She made vibrant past passions by exposing her own. Bless her heart. History is, after all, the study of people as well as events.

Barbara Tuchman died a few days ago. History will never be as honest or as much of a joy to read. Hail. I miss her.