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The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

Paperback

By (author) Barbara W. Tuchman

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  • Publisher: Abacus
  • Format: Paperback | 576 pages
  • Dimensions: 126mm x 198mm x 40mm | 399g
  • Publication date: 15 February 1990
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0349106746
  • ISBN 13: 9780349106748
  • Sales rank: 173,748

Product description

From the distinguished American historian whose work has been acclaimed around the world, a major new book that penetrates one of the most bizarre and fascinating paradoxes in history: the persistent pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own intersts. Across the march of thirty centuries, Tuchman brings to life the dramatic events which constitute folly's hallmark in government; the fall of Troy, symbolic prototype of freely chosen disaster; the Protestant secession, provoked by six decades of spectacularly corrupt papcy; the British forfeiture of the American colonies; and America's catastrophic thirty year involvement with vietnam. The March of Folly, a work of profound and poignant relevance today, is breathtaking in its scope, originality and vision, and represents the writing of Barbara Tuchman at it's finest.

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Author information

Barbara Tuchman is a double Pulizter Prize winning historian who has writen some of the seminal popular historical works of our age. She died in 1989.

Review quote

A Tuchman book always teems with colourful characters... observed with a relentless and unforgiving gaze... and what an eye for detail and flair for language she possesses! London Review of Books Admirers of her earlier works will find Barbara Tuchman's familiar virtues on display. She is lucid, painstaking and highly intelligent. She is also highly expert. Sunday Times Few historians, if any, write as well as Barbara Tuchman -- J.H. Plumb

Editorial reviews

At her best, popular historian Tuchman tells a good story. At her worst, she can be superficial and banal. An exercise in historical interpretation such as this, tracing a single idea through a set of examples, is structured toward her weaknesses; and they are only too apparent. Tuchman applies the concept of folly to historical "mistakes" with certain features in common: the policy taken was contrary to self-interest; it was not that of an individual (attributable to the individual's character), but that of a group; it was not the only policy available; and it was pursued despite forebodings that it was mistaken. The only way to account for such self-destructive policies, in Tuchman's view, is to label them follies; but that, as she seems unaware, puts them beyond rational explanation. Her three major examples are the aggressive actions of the Renaissance popes that resulted in the Reformation, Britain's loss of the American colonies, and the American debacle in Vietnam. (The Trojan Horse episode serves as an introductory prototype.) One of Tuchman's auxiliary categories is "wooden-headed," which is what she calls the popes who resisted pleas for reform, stuck to their doomed ways, and otherwise lived debauched lives. (On the other hand, "Kennedy was no wooden head," since he avoided making a decision on Vietnam; had he lived, he would presumably either have withdrawn from Vietnam or become another wooden head.) Disavowals notwithstanding, Tuchman cannot escape exercising hindsight. The appearance is inescapable that she has plumbed her cited sources not for their evocation of the mentality of an age but for some good quotes that support the contention of available alternatives. On the American Revolution, for example, her simple account of the Stamp Act and parliamentary debate on the colonies betrays no substantial knowledge of the recent, careful reconstruction of the political understandings of the time. While Tuchman's gaze is squarely fixed on ministers in London trying to implement an unenforceable tax, the real dynamics of colonial rebellion were being played out in America. If there was folly here it was the same as Tuchman's, lying in the ignored political transformation across the ocean. None of the sections work as straight narrative: they are too shallow, and the time covered is too long, for more than an outline of events. Unable to explain the courses of action taken, Tuchman cries folly. That principle of historical interpretation is likely to satisfy very few. (Kirkus Reviews)