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Barbara W. Tuchman

  • Dead battles, like dead generals, hold the military mind in their dead grip ...

  • Honor wears different coats to different eyes ...

  • Fateful moments tend to evoke grandeur of speech, especially in French.

  • Arguments can always be found to turn desire into policy.

  • Nothing so comforts the military mind as the maxim of a great but dead general.

  • War is the unfolding of miscalculations.

  • To rush in upon an event before its significance has had time to separate from the surrounding circumstances may be enterprising, but is it useful? ... The recent prevalence of these hot histories on publishers' lists raises the question: Should — or perhaps can — history be written while it is still smoking?

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • ... the unrecorded past is none other than our old friend, the tree in the primeval forest which fell without being heard.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • There is no such thing as a neutral or purely objective historian. Without an opinion a historian woud be simply a ticking clock, and unreadable besides.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • The poets have familiarized more people with history than have the historians ...

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • What his imagination is to the poet, facts are to the historian. His exercise of judgment comes in their selection, his art in their arrangement. His method is narrative. ... His subject is the story of man's past. His function is to make it known.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Can History Be Served Up Hot?" in The New York Times Book Review ()
  • Words are seductive and dangerous material, to be used with caution.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "History by the Ounce," in Harper's Magazine ()
  • To be a bestseller is not necessarily a measure of quality, but it is a measure of communication.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • speech ()
  • The conduct of war was so much more interesting than its prevention.

  • No nation in the world has so many drastic problems squeezed into so small a space, under such urgent pressure of time and heavy burden of history, as Israel.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "Israel: Land of Unlimited Impossibilities," in Saturday Evening Post ()
  • The better part of valor is to spend it learning to live with differences, however hostile, unless and until we can find another planet.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "How We Entered World War I," in The New York Times Magazine ()
  • Reasonable orders are easy enough to obey; it is capricious, bureaucratic or plain idiotic demands that form the habit of discipline.

  • The fact of being reported increases the apparent extent of a deplorable development by a factor of ten.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in The Atlantic ()
  • The costliest myth of our time has been the myth of the Communist monolith.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Foreign Service Bulletin ()
  • In the United States we have a society pervaded from top to bottom by contempt for the law.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Newsweek ()
  • Human behavior is timeless.

  • Completeness is rare in history ...

  • In individuals as in nations, contentment is silent, which tends to unbalance the historical record.

  • Christianity in its ideas was never the art of the possible.

  • ... satire is a wrapping of exaggeration around a core of reality.

  • Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. They are engines of change, windows on the world, lighthouses erected in a sea of time.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Authors' League Bulletin ()
  • Without books the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are the engines of change, windows on the world, 'lighthouses' as the poet said 'erected in the sea of time.' They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Authors' League Bulletin ()
  • Wisdom — meaning judgment acting on experience, common sense, available knowledge, and a decent appreciation of probability.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "An Inquiry Into the Persistence of Unwisdom in Government," Esquire ()
  • It is wiser, I believe, to arrive at theory by way of evidence rather than the other way round ... It is more rewarding, in any case, to assemble the facts first and, in the process of arranging them in narrative form, to discover a theory or a historical generalization emerging on its own accord.

  • Policy is formed by preconceptions, by long implanted biases. When information is relayed to policy-makers, they respond in terms of what is already inside their heads and consequently make policy less to fit the facts than to fit the notions and intentions formed out of the mental baggage that has accumulated in their minds since childhood.

  • Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Reader's Digest ()
  • If power corrupts, weakness in the seat of power with its constant necessity of deals and bribes and compromising arrangements, corrupts even more.

  • The appetite for power is old and irrepressible in humankind, and in its action almost always destructive.

  • A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests.

  • Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.

  • Strong prejudices in an ill-formed mind are hazardous to government, and when combined with a position of power even more so.

  • Government remains the paramount area of folly because it is there that men seek power over others — only to lose it over themselves.

  • In America, where the electoral process is drowning in commercial techniques of fund-raising and image-making, we may have completed a circle back to a selection process as unconcerned with qualifications as that which made Darius King of Persia. ... he whose horse was the first to neigh at sunrise should be King.

  • ... bureaucracy, safely repeating today what it did yesterday, rolls on as ineluctably as some vast computer, which, once penetrated by error, duplicates it forever.

  • Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in New Yorker ()
  • I ask myself, have nations ever declined from a loss of moral sense rather than from physical reasons or the pressure of barbarians? I think that they have.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • in Bill Moyers, A World of Ideas ()
  • I have always been in a condition in which I cannot not write.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman
  • The story and study of the past, both recent and distant, will not reveal the future, but it flashes beacon lights along the way and it is a useful nostrum against despair.

    • Barbara W. Tuchman,
    • "The Historian's Opportunity," Practicing History: Selected Essays ()

Barbara W. Tuchman, U.S. historian, writer, Pulitzer Prize winner

(1912 - 1989)

Full name: Barbara Wertheim Tuchman.