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The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,570 Ratings  ·  246 Reviews
Twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, author Barbara Tuchman now tackles the pervasive presence of folly in governments thru the ages. Defining folly as the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests, despite the availability of feasible alternatives, Tuchman details four decisive turning points in history that illustrate the very heights of folly i ...more
Paperback, 447 pages
Published February 12th 1985 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1984)
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Mar 16, 2012 Stephen rated it it was amazing
Babs is one crafty, talented instructor and this ranks highly among the BEST history books I've had the pleasure of reading. You should be reading it right now.

Seriously, I mean it.

This is the second gem by Barbara Tuchman that I've tackled, after the stellar The Guns of August), and the impressiveness of her work has led to my developing rather intense, and possibly inappropriate, feelings for her. I'm smitten.

You see, Babs writes history in such a colorful, engaging manner that you don't no
Riku Sayuj
May 10, 2014 Riku Sayuj rated it liked it

I thought 'The March of Folly' would be a good read to balance out the optimism of The Wisdom of Crowds. Turned out to be a great hunch.


Indeed, Tuchman's book does in fact emphasize that very optimism. Tuchman's 'Follies' are committed not by the common people but by closeted leaders, lacking in common-sense and cut-off from ground realities. Do I need to mention the Yes-Men that surround them?

Tuchman takes up a panoramic view of human history and exposes these decisions, and wonders with us
Nov 20, 2014 William1 rated it really liked it
A highly readable account of four instances of human folly over the last 2800 years. These include the Trojans's unaccountable bringing of the Trojan horse into Troy; the transgressions of the Renaissance Popes which brought on the Reformation; the loss by Britain of the American colonies; and America's own pointless war in Vietnam. The last section reminds me very much of Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie, which was written several years later than Tuchman's narrative. Her book is vivid, clea ...more
Erik Graff
Mar 24, 2013 Erik Graff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: U.S. citizens
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Tuchman's The March of Folly is spotty. First of all, too much attention is paid to Troy, about which nothing is known, historically speaking. All that section does is provide a simile or two for what follows. Also, she actually is stronger in another classical case not mentioned in the title or in most descriptions of the book, viz. that of King Rehoboam of Israel. Second, the account of the involvements of France and the United States in VietNam is of a journalistic quality not in keeping with ...more
Feb 01, 2014 Ed rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those with an interest in history
A fascinating attempt by Tuchman to explain or at least illustrate why governments choose the wrong path even when they know it's the wrong path. She begins with the story of the Trojan Horse to illustrate the first written example of governmental folly leading to disaster.

The next three examples are of the Renaissance Popes, the British handling of the American Revolution and the American actions before and during the Vietnamese War.

The popes, in spite of criticism from many clerics and kings c
Jan 30, 2014 James rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I always enjoy Barbara Tuchman`s ability to write compelling and accessible history be it the oubreak of WWI or the life of a french aristorcrat in the 14th Century, add to that a job which allows me to experience folly in all its glory, I had sky high expectations of the book.

The premise was so promising, noted historian takes a four egregious disatsers the trojan horse, the papal actions in the lead up to Luther, the loss of the american colonies and the Vietnam war to understand what led to t
Russell Bittner
Jul 19, 2013 Russell Bittner rated it it was amazing
The March of Folly is an unfortunate title. Or maybe not so unfortunate. Because, after all, what is folly?

Barbara Tuchman gives us several examples of the human animal at its worst — but parading at its best. From Ancient Troy right up through Vietnam (can a sequel including Chechnia, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan be far behind?), we have proved ourselves to be little better than the apes. If there’s a difference, it’s only in the splendor of our rebarbative behavior. Kings, Po
Clif Hostetler
Apr 02, 2012 Clif Hostetler rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In this book Tuchman takes a step beyond the traditional historian's story-telling role to provide color-commentary about a specific subset of examples of misgovernment that she classifies as "folly." Not all examples of misgovernment can be classified as folly as explained in the following quotation.
"Misgovernment is of four kinds, often in combination. They are: 1) tyranny or oppression ... , 2) excessive ambition ... , 3) incompetence or decadence ... , 4) folly or perversity. This books is c
Jul 18, 2014 Kaveh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
شايد با خواندن اين كتاب از بار رواني اي كه سنگيني اش را هميشه حس مي كنيم كاسته شود! اينكه نزديك به سه هزار سال پيش تا كنون، همه حكمرانان كاري جز اين نكرده اند كه تمامي خطاهاي پيشينيان را تكرار كنند، اينكه هرگز در حكمراني، عبرت و عقل كمترين جايگاهي ندارد، اينكه در اين 30 قرن، بشر در همه چيز پيشرفت هايي بسيار يا لااقل دگرگوني هاي فراواني داشته است، بجز عرصه حكمراني، هم انسان را راحت مي كند و هم ناراحت. راحتمان مي كند كه ما در اين زمانه تافته ي جدا بافته نيستيم و هميشه حاكمان بي عقل به روشهاي شبيه ...more
Jul 15, 2012 Owen rated it it was ok
Barbara Tuchman is a first-rate writer and historian whose books I have much enjoyed. For some years now I have been meaning to get a copy of "The March of Folly," since it is a book which greatly appeals to me in its concept. To look at the history of modern man (since about 1,000 BC) and take examples of real foolishness on the part of a number of key governments, and try to see why they so acted, strikes me as a wonderful idea for a book. However, I can now say, somewhat reluctantly, that "Th ...more
Jun 18, 2009 Brian rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People needing a refresher course in history
About 8 years ago when I read this book I would have given it 4 stars. It gets a 5 today simply because it is much more pertinent to read it now.

Barbara Tuchman is one of the great writers of history. She remembers the first rule of history: Tell a story. In this one she tells several and keeps your attention better. The theme is imaginative and appropriate. It is also not a very long book so you can easily read it in a week.

Barbara Tuchman has a way of viewing history as few can. Instead of f
Oct 20, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I was in the 4th grade I found a book that my Mom had to read for college in the back of a cupboard. That book was Barbara W. Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror", and I do believe that is what led me to all the other history books I've enjoyed in the years since. "The March of Folly" is a study of, in the authors' words, pursuit of policy contrary to self-interest, with four main examples. The Trojan horse, The Renaissance popes, the British loss of America, and America in Vietnam. I particularly ...more
Dana Stabenow
Jan 19, 2015 Dana Stabenow rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
A book which informed my entire world view, and still does. Tuchman posits the existance of folly, or the pursuit of public policy contrary to self-interest–in other words, why nations keep shooting themselves in the foot. She uses the Trojans taking the Greek horse inside the walls of Troy as her template

...the feasible alternative--that of destroying the Horse--is always open. Capys the Elder advised it before Laocoon's warning, and Cassandra afterward. Notwithstanding the frequent references
May 29, 2007 Douglas rated it really liked it
Barbara Tuchman teaches us all about why the stupid people in power do the stupid things they do. Inviting giant wooden horses inside the walls. Provoking the Protestant Reformation. Losing the American Colonies. Bogging a superpower down in a brushfire war in a backwater country of no strategic significance.

this one needs an update for the new century of follies, but alas Tuchman is no longer with us.
Tasos Nikitakis
Oct 24, 2014 Tasos Nikitakis rated it really liked it
The wooden horse of Troy is gracing the cover of this book but after finishing it a picture of the statue of Laocoon would seem more appropriate. This is a book dedicated to an examination of the greatest sin plaguing public office and politics in general: Folly. Like the snakes encircling Laocoon and his children, folly in statesmanship has many manifestations and Tuchman has chosen her historical cases very well managing to offer a deep and extensive analysis. The historical tour makes the poi ...more
Nov 15, 2012 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent, excellent examination of the tendency for political policies to continue down damaging pathways though multiple experts advise against it, which Tuchman describes as “folly.” Her description of decadent popes directly encouraging the Protestant Reformation and the resulting loss of Roman power is fun, lively, and intellectually rigorous.
She falters a bit while explaining the British loss of the American colonies as a result of folly. She would have been wise to shave at least 20-30 f
Dec 10, 2011 Tony rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
88. THE MARCH OF FOLLY: From Troy to Vietnam. (1984; this ed. 2007). Barbara W. Tuchman. *****.
From the scads of potential topics that could be used to illustrate her thesis, this excellent author manages to pick four subjects that epitomize folly in its full sense: The Trojan War; The American Revolution; The Renaissance Popes; and the Vietnam War. Although several examples from history are discussed briefly along the way, Ms. Tuchman manages to pull enough information together from the above
Meirav Rath
Mar 28, 2008 Meirav Rath rated it liked it
Recommends it for: History fans
Shelves: general-history
Tuchman writes well, she obviously knows a great deal of history and can often reach that almost-impossible achievement of historians to both tell as many facts as possible while not overloading. I say 'often' because this book didn't always have this moment.
Two things I liked about this book:
1. Tuchman's deep familiarity with a very wide range of history topics and times.
2. The obviously matriculate and objective, clear way of defining 'folly' by a certain logical and smart definition without g
Sep 22, 2014 Lightreads rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
A collection of pieces exploring terrible policy, and specifically policy counter to the actors's interests. Appealing in concept, but lacking that put together incisiveness of Tuchman at her best. She can talk about the ruinous behavior of the Renaissance Popes and Britain's blinkered inability to correctly handle the American colonies with her usual detail and erudition, but this book lacks cohesion, or a real message other than institutional idiocy: weird, eh?
The Thousander Club
May 14, 2016 The Thousander Club rated it really liked it
In 2002 Elder Neal A. Maxwell titled Encircled in the Arms of His Love. As part of his talk, he briefly discussed the Founding Fathers and subsequently quoted Barbara W. Tuchman from her book The March of Folly: "It would be invaluable if we could know what produced this burst of talent from a base of only two and a half million inhabitants." As part of my quest to catalogue as many books quoted at General Conference as possible, I added the book to the list and shortly thereafter ordered it for ...more
Alexander Lawson
Apr 26, 2016 Alexander Lawson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lively and enjoyable book providing warnings against folly in the exercise of power that remain relevant today.

Folly: the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved

1. Should be perceived in its own time as counter-productive
2. Feasible alternatives must have been available
3. Policy should have been that of a group, not just and individual

Character is fate
Folly a child of power
Cognitive dissonance

Lord Acton: “Power tends to corr
Kristi Richardson
“Everything one has a right to do is not best to be done." Benjamin Franklin”

My latest read of Barbara Tuchman is her book about folly. The premise is that people and governments may persist on actions that they know is not correct but either from hubris, ego, lack of information, or lack of being able to discern wrong thinking and the ability to change your views.

The book is separated into four parts: The battle for Troy, the Medieval Popes leading to the Reformation, the British losing the Co
Dan Downing
Oct 17, 2015 Dan Downing rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
First published in 1984 (symbolically?), "The March of Folly" follows governmental folly from the brief account of the Trojan War to the expanded section on the Renaissance Popes, through the longer still loss of America by Britain and ends with a lengthy essay on America's blunder in Vietnam. The amount of space devoted to each episode of lumber headedness reflects more the volume of source material available than the importance of the events. Indeed, it is from Plato that Tuchman gets her titl ...more
Chris Jaffe
Sep 10, 2015 Chris Jaffe rated it did not like it
Shelves: history
Man, talk about phoning it in....

Years ago I read Barbara Tuchman's famous "Guns of August" and thought it was great. So I'd give this one a shot. Big mistake.

She's just slumming it here; not trying very hard. The theme is times in history when a nation engaged in folly - self-defeating behavior. That's a pretty broad theme that in encapsulate tons of examples. She focuses on four items that don't really have much to do w/ each other, but she felt like talking about. Well, really three things (s
May 18, 2015 Bryan rated it liked it
It's been a while since I've read non-fiction. I was interested in reading another Barbara W. Tuchman book after having read the excellent The Guns of August years ago.

In this book, the author explores the concept of folly, as practiced by ruling bodies: when a historical actor stubbornly persists in policies that are demonstrably against its self-interest. She compares and contrasts four main instances of folly: Troy allowing itself to be defeated by the Greek ruse of the Trojan Horse; the Rena
Charles Eliot
Apr 16, 2015 Charles Eliot rated it really liked it
Barbara Tuchman defines folly as actions by leaders flagrantly against the interests of the people they are leading. The actions must be sustained over time (not a momentary rush of blood to the head), involve several people (not just one deluded dictator), and be taken in the presence of visible opposition and viable alternatives.

The stories she tells of folly meeting her exacting criteria - the fall of Troy, the fall of Montezuma, the corruption of the Renaissance popes leading to the Protesta
Dec 05, 2014 HBalikov marked it as to-read
Tuchman is a historian who communicates well with the general public. That must be one reason why she has been awarded two Pulitzer prizes. In the aftermath of the Vietnam war she attempts to look at why governments get involved in bad decision-making. Or, as she puts it: "A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit by governments of policies contrary to their own interests. Mankind, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other hum ...more
Jun 13, 2014 Sandie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
In this groundbreaking work, Barbara Tuchman explores the reasons that humans, especially governments, persist in actions that by all logic, are foolish. It is a common action, leaving us to often use the wisdom of time to look back at decisions that were made that seem so wrong and illogical. What possessed those living in the moment to make such bad decisions, and more importantly, refuse to correct their course?

Tuchman studies several monumental historical mistakes to explore her thesis. She
Jeremy Norman
Oct 05, 2015 Jeremy Norman rated it it was amazing
A book every politician should read. It made me think of our current follies; the second war in Iraq and our interventions in Libya and now Syria.... will we never learn. Ms Tuchman eloquently analyses four historic follies derived from a mixture of hubris and the belief in supreme beings directing events. Only the Emperor Nero fails to find a place is this learned dissertation on man's irrational behaviour and its disastrous results.

The book did what any good book should do, it made me think de
Mar 25, 2015 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall I found this to be an informative and interesting book, though I'm at a loss to say what it's purpose was. It pointed out that governments pursue policies that are contrary to their self-interest, but there was very little in depth discussion as to why this occurs. Tuchman never seems to offer a diagnosis of the problem, merely stating that personal ambition and "wooden-headedness" can lead to folly. She acknowledges that political pressures can prevent even well meaning leaders from avo ...more
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Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American self-trained historian and author. She became best known for The Guns of August, a history of the prelude and first month of World War I.

As an author, Tuchman focused on producing popular history. Her clear, dramatic storytelling covered topics as diverse as the 14th century and World War I, and sold millions of copies.
More about Barbara W. Tuchman...

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“Chief among the forces affecting political folly is lust for power, named by Tacitus as "the most flagrant of all passions.” 7 likes
“No one is so sure of his premises as the man who knows too little.” 4 likes
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