Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Practicing History: Selected Essays” as Want to Read:
Practicing History:  Selected Essays
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Practicing History: Selected Essays

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  454 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
From thoughtful pieces on the historian's role to striking insights into America's past and present to trenchant observations on the international scene, Barbara W. Tuchman looks at history in a unique way and draws lessons from what she sees. Here is a splendid body of work, the story of a lifetime spent "practicing history."
Paperback, 352 pages
Published August 12th 1982 by Ballantine Books (first published September 12th 1981)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Apr 11, 2009 Lobstergirl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: pastrami lovers
Shelves: own, historiography

I'm somewhat new to Tuchman, having read only The Guns of August and this 1981 compilation of essays and speeches ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s. By far the most interesting pieces are in the first section, "The Craft," where she discusses her habits of research and writing. Among her pointers: use primary sources only; and edit ruthlessly. Resist including some irresistible anecdote if it doesn't help or advance your narrative. The second section is titled "The Yield" - meaning what her cr
Tom Marcinko
Dec 09, 2012 Tom Marcinko rated it really liked it
Her 1981 book of essays. Most interesting to me were her Watergate-era thoughts on the Presidency: how it’s become too powerful, & too much for one person. The Bush years would have blown her mind. Thinking there’s an essay in there.
I died inside a little when I saw her quoted in Natl. Review (on Google). I suppose she’s well worth stealing, as Orwell said of Dickens.

“Don’t look up so much material,” [a newspaper editor] said. “You can turn out the job much faster if you don’t know too much
Mar 29, 2017 Aaron rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few misses in this collection...but the hits...are just excellent. Tuchman had a penetrating intellect buttressed by a common sense philosophy regarding the ethics of writing "non-fiction." While I would classify it as common sense, she still managed to layer and practice this philosophy in a consistent way that is unmatched by most popular and academic authors. Her insight on the process is just wonderful and can be applied to much in life.
Evan Leach
Practicing History is a collection of 33 short essays by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman. I am a big fan of Tuchman’s work, which includes one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve ever read (A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century) and a true masterpiece (The Guns of August). This collection wasn’t quite as engrossing as her longer works, but there’s still a lot to like. The book is divided into three sections:

The Craft
The first third of the book consists of eight
Dec 21, 2009 Kent rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book is divided into three parts: the "craft"--Tuchmann's guidelines for writing history; the "yield"--a collection of short historical pieces that are intended, I suppose, to demonstrate her guidelines; and "learning from history"--a collection of articles and speeches with lessons she has drawn from history.

Of the three sections, the first was the most valuable. Her full length books I think are some of the best examples I've come across of really excellent narrative history. It was helpf
Jul 26, 2007 Margie rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-other
I very much enjoyed this book. Tuchman is definitely from a different era, and writes about looking back to more refined language while grappling with issues of whether or not to include vulgarity if it's part of the character of an historical figure. She also writes with the racism that was common to her class and era; she ascribes motivations and worldviews to "the Oriental", for example. It's a bit jarring, but mostly fascinating as an artifact of that era.

The book is divided into essays and
Erik Graff
Oct 14, 2015 Erik Graff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: historians, Tuchman fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
Rich Hyde introduced me to Tuchman via her WWI books, The Proud Tower and The Guns of August, during high school. Since then I've kept an eye out for her work, buying such titles as I have found and reading them with varying degrees of profit. Some, such as her book on the 14th century, were a bit beyond me at the time and not very profitable. All, however, have been enjoyable.

This collection, arranged and explained by herself, covers the range of Tuchman's work, everything from historiography t
James Eckman
The first portion of the book is about the author's philosophy and methods for writing popular narrative histories. It's well worth a read by anyone who has any interest in the subject. The rest of the book is assorted articles, All are at least 40+ years old and didn't age well and in the light of hindsight didn't come true. Tuchman was a product of the earlier 20th century and died before the end of the Cold War, this is one of the reasons that some of these articles seem so pessimistic.
Aug 16, 2007 Bardi rated it liked it
One of the fun parts of Goodread is finding books that I have not read by authors I like..or in this case love. If you are not a historian and wonder what all the fuss about the subject it, I suggest you read one of her books. If you are a historian than by all means read all of her books and find out how to write about the subject.
Emily Thompson
Jun 12, 2017 Emily Thompson rated it really liked it
Dense essays that explain pretty much everything about how our social/political world works.
Kristi Richardson
“Nothing sickens me more than the closed door of a library.”

This book originally published in the 80’s, is a series of articles, lectures and speeches collected by Ms. Tuchman from her years of writing about history and historical happenings.

Some of my favorite topics were her experience on writing history and the value of libraries. She liked to use note cards and when she had enough on her subject, she would start to go through them and if she couldn’t use it in one chapter it would carry on
Mark Eickhoff
Oct 13, 2013 Mark Eickhoff rated it really liked it
This was an outstanding book of essays written by Ms. Tuchman between the 1930's and the 1970's. It concentrates on the craft of researching and writing history and offers much in the way of practical advice that I will definitely use. She hooked me with her very first essay when she observed, "bad writing is bad history." It is a theme that she stresses again and again throughout the book: historians must learn to write well and to write with the reader in mind. Research is the fun part of bein ...more
Harry Allagree
One may not always agree with historian, Barbara Tuchman's interpretation, but one must admire her strength of conviction & her unshakeable resolve to examine history, particularly that of the United States, with factual insight & fairness as close to complete as a human can get. I never tire of her excellent writing style which captivates you, not least for the sheer beauty of language & expression.

For me the most valuable chapters in the book are in Section III, "Learning From Hist
May 31, 2013 Işıl rated it really liked it
Wow. There are many many things one could relate to what Tuchman lists as do's and don'ts of the narrative history. Her perspective is fair & objective -although she claims no historian can ever be objective in his way of writing history. Plus, you don't necessarily have to be a historian to find common grounds with Tuchman. Even those who experienced writing a straightforward 10-page history paper would go "I know right?" as a reply to hassle and rigor of narrating history she presents in t ...more
Nov 18, 2016 Eric rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Early on I was of a mind that Tuchman was a far better historian than essayist, but really started warming to her outlook on things as she took the press to task. I made note of this quote. "Communiques have about as much relation to what actually happens as astrology has to the science of the stars.'' I sense in that line a caution that a goodly number of journalists could heed today. Later, she started losing me again as her essays became more about contemporaneous goings on as she added essay ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
I picked up this book at a book sale to fund a scholarship in memory of a professor who died recently. I can't remember if this is one I bought or if this is one that I vultured off the table after they cleared out and left the rest behind. Though if I didn't pay for it, I probably would have if I had seen it - they were only charging a dollar or two for most of the books. I like Barbara Tuchman's work.

Anyway, this collection of essays is incredibly varied. There's one where she urges anti-war (
Jul 05, 2013 Noreen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
My first Tuchman was Stillwell and the American experience in China. Favorite Chapter "The Assimilationist Dilemma: Ambassador Morgeanthau's Story" about her father and grandfather. Tuchman frames every immigrants Dilemma on whether to be a citizen of the new country or the old country. Her father then 28 years old took $50,000 to Palestine Jewry. When it came to distribution, the gold precipitated an attack of internecine quarreling among the various local organizations, until my father,,,picke ...more
Jeni Enjaian
I didn't know what to expect of this book when I started reading. I don't know much about Ms. Tuchman and her historical philosophy. After reading this book, I have very little doubt.
I liked the earlier essays, the ones on historiography. However, the overall coherence of the book degenerates after the first part. I kept expecting the anecdotes about various events in recent history to lead to explanations of how this affected her historical philosophy. I had no such luck. The final three or fou
Heather Fryling
Jan 02, 2014 Heather Fryling rated it really liked it
This book fascinated me, as it offered insight from the sidelines of the action into times and places I've only known as history--Vietnam, Watergate, the early days of Israel. Most of all, it opened my eyes to the source of the cynicism permeating modern western culture. Although I grew up in safe and peaceful times, my cultural inheritance was the "terrible twentieth" which saw two world wars and the near extermination of an entire branch of humanity, the rise and fall of Marxist idealism, and ...more
I really loved this book of essays by Barbara Tuchman. The early essays discussing the practice of the writing of history were outstanding. It makes me want to leave my job teaching high school history and become a researcher and writer of history. I could not have enjoyed those essays more. The later essays are all pulled from magazine and newspaper writings (as well as transcripts of speeches) of Tuchman, and they deal with historical events, current political events of her time, book reviews, ...more
Jun 21, 2012 Carol rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2012, essays, tuchman
I started out loving Barbara Tuchman's book of essays. The first eight essays, on the craft of writing history, sent me over the moon.

My ardor went down just a degree or two in the next section, which might be described as history in small chunks. Although the final section, in which she comments about (1960-1970) current affairs, yields nuggets, I found myself in disagreement with Tuchman and disengaged with her writing.

It seems to me the further away the period about which she writes, e.g. M
Feb 08, 2017 Mark rated it it was amazing
Her writing is excellent, as always.
Sep 03, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
"Practicing History" is a series of essay on history and the writing of history by the popular historian, Barbara Tuchman. It is obvious why she is popular because she is interesting (most of the time).

So if you want to know what goes into writing history and the background of some of her previous books, then this is the book for you. I enjoyed it and I was surprised I would enjoy it since it started off a little slow.

I'd probably read this book again, probably for reference.
Jun 18, 2010 Terry rated it really liked it
collection of essays and commentaries on numerous 20th century historical events, many of which I didn't know much about. Therefore, I enjoyed the details! What interested me most was that the author was the daughter of a player in early 20th century politics/events and from an early age she knew many now historic figures. She had access to these players and this intimacy lends credence to her telling of the events.
Unfortunately, I think this book started with a tedious essay. I can understand why it was put first, but it might have been better saved for the end of the book. About half of the women in book club were put off by it. Those with the good sense to just skip it and read later essays really liked the book and then went back and read it and it was more meaningful.
Craig Fiebig
Aug 04, 2016 Craig Fiebig rated it it was amazing
Excellent discussion by a fabulous historian. Her counsel to the elites on their (non-)relationship to the military is incisive. Her lecture to the military at the War College exceptional. An excellent book throughout. Her only error was her common misinterpretation of the intent of the 2nd Amendment but an otherwise flawless work.
Susan Gardner
Jun 19, 2011 Susan Gardner rated it really liked it
Essays on the craft of writing history and the nature of being a historian. A fitting climax to the series of wonderful books which have made both the Middle Ages and 20th century history accessible to the literate lay reader and still be of service to the student of history.
Patrick Tobin
Jan 05, 2009 Patrick Tobin rated it really liked it
Several essays are brilliant, plus there is a wide array of subjects. In particular:

How We Entered World War I
Pedicaris Alive or Raisuli Dead
The Final Solution

My first intro to Tuchman and I'll definitely read more.
Nov 26, 2013 Denise rated it liked it
It's so odd to hear about research and libraries in the pre-computerized and pre-internet era.
How daunting it was just to type a page of a paper with no mistakes. Doing research in a library was so time intensive! We are very lucky in this day in age.
As might be expected of any contemporary essays or opinion pieces, some in this collection are still currently relevant, while others are of historical interest. I find her historical books to be far more involving and enjoyable.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Spain: The Root and the Flower: An Interpretation of Spain and the Spanish People
  • The Minutemen and Their World
  • The Soong Dynasty
  • The Armada
  • A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century
  • The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past
  • 1915 The Death Of Innocence
  • Virtual History: Alternatives And Counterfactuals
  • The Russian Revolution
  • Harold, the Last Anglo-Saxon King
  • The Age of Louis XIV (The Story of Civilization, #8)
  • The History of England
  • On History
  • The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events
  • From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East
  • Niubi!: The Real Chinese You Were Never Taught in School
  • Hidden History: Exploring Our Secret Past
  • Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past (Critical Perspectives on the Past)
Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was an American self-trained historian and author and double Pulitzer Prize winner. She became best known for The Guns of August (1962), 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 copie
More about Barbara W. Tuchman...

Share This Book

“I will only mention that the independent power of words to affect the writing of history is a thing to be watched out for. They have an almost frightening autonomous power to produce in the mind of the reader an image or idea that was not in the mind of the writer. Obviously they operate this way in all forms of writing, but history is particularly sensitive because one has a duty to be accurate, and careless use of words can leave a false impression one had not intended.” 2 likes
“Nineteenth-century liberalism had assumed that man was a rational being who operated naturally according to his own best interests, so that in the end, what was reasonable would prevail. On this principle liberals defended extension of the suffrage toward the goal of one man, one vote. But a rise in literacy and in the right to vote, as the event proved, did nothing to increase common sense in politics. The mob that is moved by waving the bloody shirt, that decides elections in response to slogans—Free Silver, Hang the Kaiser, Two Cars in Every Garage—is not exhibiting any greater political sense than Marie Antoinette, who said, “Let them eat cake,” or Caligula, who made his horse a consul. The common man proved no wiser than the decadent aristocrat. He has not shown in public affairs the innate wisdom which democracy presumed he possessed.” 1 likes
More quotes…