The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

January 30, 2017

January 30, 1912

Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (January 30, 1912 to February 6, 1989,) came from a family with a history of public service. Her father, Maurice Wertheim, was a successful banker and philanthropist. She married a physician, Lester Tuchman, and they had three daughters. Tuchman was born in New York City and died in Greenwich Connecticut.

After receiving a bachelor's degree from Radcliffe in 1933, Tuchman landed a job as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations, a non-governmental organization aimed at bettering relations between nations surrounding the Pacific Ocean. She left the IPR in 1935 for a reporting position at The Nation, a weekly magazine owned by her father, Maurice Wertheim.

The same source continues:

During her early career as a journalist, in 1938, Tuchman published a book about the United Kingdom's policy toward Spain and the Western Mediterranean entitled
The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700. She went on to produce two more publications in the 1950s: Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, a historical analysis of the relationship between Great Britain and Palestine prior to the Balfour Declaration, and The Zimmermann Telegram, published in 1956 and 1958, respectively.

.....Her book The Guns of August(1962), a historical analysis of early World War I in which Tuchman dissects and criticizes events leading up to the war, earned her the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. She went on to win another Pulitzer in 1970 for a piece on the relationship between American and China during World War II, closely following the accounts of U.S. General Joseph Warren Stilwell, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45.

....Tuchman's other literary works include The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (1966); Notes From China (1972); A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978); The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), an examination of the Trojan War and other events of Greek mythology, the actions of the Catholic Church leading up to the Protestant secession, the American Revolutionary War, and the Vietnam War; and The First Salute (1988), a historical analysis of the American Revolutionary War.

Britannica explains Tuchman's successful career as an historian this way: "Tuchman brought a historical period or personage to life by an accumulation of vivid and concrete details. She combined a masterful literary style with a clear and powerful grasp of complex historical issues."

Our quotation from her A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century illustrates both these points. It is a shockingly vivid scene which conveys the violence in everyday life:

In everyday life passersby saw some criminal flogged with a knotted rope or chained upright in an iron collar. They passed corpses hanging on the gibbet and decapitated heads and quartered bodies impaled on stakes on the city walls. In every church they saw pictures of saints undergoing varieties of atrocious martyrdom— by arrows, spears, fire, cut-off breasts— usually dripping blood. The Crucifixion with its nails, spears, thorns, whips, and more dripping blood was inescapable. Blood and cruelty were ubiquitous in Christian art, indeed essential to it, for Christ became Redeemer, and the saints sanctified, only through suffering violence at the hands of their fellow man. In village games, players with hands tied behind them competed to kill a cat nailed to a post by battering it to death with their heads, at the risk of cheeks ripped open or eyes scratched out by the frantic animal’s claws.

Calamitous, and distant.  If it is a mirror also, it shows a progress of human nature over the centuries.

No comments: