Practicing History: Selected Essays
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Practicing History: Selected Essays

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  289 ratings  ·  28 reviews
Celebrated for bringing a personal touch to history in her Pulitzer Prize–winning epic The Guns of August and other classic books, Barbara W. Tuchman reflects on world events and the historian’s craft in these perceptive, essential essays.

From thoughtful pieces on the historian’s role to striking insights into America’s past and present to trenchant observations on the in...more
ebook, 352 pages
Published July 13th 2011 by Random House (first published September 12th 1981)
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Aug 09, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
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...more
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...more
Tom Marcinko
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...more
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...more
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.
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...more
Heather Fryling
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
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
Mark Eickhoff
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
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 (...more
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
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...more
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.
Susan Gardner
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.
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.
"A book to celebrate.�A delight to read." � New York Times Book Review

Listen to Practicing History on your iPhone, desktop, or smartphone.
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.
Patrick Tobin
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.
Reading this book was a requirement for one of my college history classes. It is probably the finest book written on the craft of history as an art form. I dip into it fairly often. Tuchman was a master historian!
About the writing of history by one of the best historians of our time. A must-read for anyone who is interested in good writing and accurate, interesting history.
A very good overview of how a historian does her "job" and some of the results of her work. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoys reading history.
Clark Hinckley
Quite simply, the best book about writing history, by one the best writers of history.
Great book for someone trying to write about history.
June marked it as to-read
Jul 27, 2014
G. Peterson
G. Peterson marked it as to-read
Jul 24, 2014
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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...
The Guns of August A Distant Mirror:  The Calamitous 14th Century The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam The Zimmermann Telegram

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