Barbara Tuchman

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Barbara Wertheim Tuchman (January 30, 1912 – February 6, 1989) was an American self-trained historian and author. She first became known for her best-selling book The Guns of August, a history of the prelude to and first month of World War I, which won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1963.

Tuchman focused on writing popular history. Her clear, dramatic storytelling covered topics as diverse as the 14th century and World War I, and sold millions of copies.


Life and career

Tuchman was the daughter of the banker Maurice Wertheim. She was a first cousin of New York district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, a niece of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and granddaughter of Henry Morgenthau Sr., Woodrow Wilson's Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in 1933.

She married Lester R. Tuchman, an internist, medical researcher and professor of clinical medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in 1939; they had three daughters (one of whom is Jessica Mathews).[1]

From 1934 to 1935 she worked as a research assistant at the Institute of Pacific Relations in New York and Tokyo, and then began a career as a journalist before turning to books. Tuchman was the editorial assistant for The Nation and an American correspondent for the New Statesman in London, the Far East News Desk and the Office of War Information (1934–45).

Tuchman was a trustee of Radcliffe College and a lecturer at Harvard University, University of California, and the U.S. Naval War College. A tower of Currier House, a Harvard College residential dormitory, was named in her honor.

Tuchman's Law

Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts. The fact of being on the record makes it appear continuous and ubiquitous whereas it is more likely to have been sporadic both in time and place. Besides, persistence of the normal is usually greater than the effect of the disturbance, as we know from our own times. After absorbing the news of today, one expects to face a world consisting entirely of strikes, crimes, power failures, broken water mains, stalled trains, school shutdowns, muggers, drug addicts, neo-Nazis, and rapists. The fact is that one can come home in the evening, on a lucky day, without having encountered more than one or two of these phenomena. This has led me to formulate Tuchman's Law, as follows: "The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five- to tenfold (or any figure the reader would care to supply)."[2]

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