Mikey B.'s Reviews > The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914

The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman
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May 25, 13

bookshelves: history
Read in April, 2011

This book consists of eight sections, or as the title suggests – portraits. They are uneven in scope and not that inter-connected.

One of the strongest ones is on the Dreyfus affair in France and it is full of passion as one would expect. Ms. Tuchman gives a stupendous view of the colliding forces at work. There is also one chapter on the Anarchist movement with an intriguing analysis of these rather eccentric and misguided people. The last chapter is on “International Communism” with a good exposition of the trumping of nationalist borders over the Marxist myth of the “unity of the working class”.

The section on the emergence of the Labour Party in England along with the fading of the English aristocracy was also of interest.

The discussion of internal opposition to U.S. expansionism and imperialism to Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii seemed to miss an essential point that the U.S. has always been expansionist. One has only to look at the sorry plight of the American Indians whose land was stolen and who were either killed or forced to settle on small reservations. Nevertheless some interesting points were made.

There is a considerable amount of name-dropping through-out which made reading tedious at times. The section on Germany was mostly on Richard Strauss at the cost of giving a fuller picture of life in this significant country. The first chapter on the English aristocracy was dry and lacked substance.

But to emphasize the good over the bad – the section on the first disarmament talks at The Hague were wonderful and we get a vivid picture of the conflicting nations and personalities involved.

All-in-all I felt the book uneven. A more recent book “The Vertigo Years” by Philipp Blom also discusses this era from the same point of view – the lives of people prior to the Great Catastrophe of 1914.

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message 1: by Kressel (new) - added it

Kressel Housman The discussion of internal opposition to U.S. expansionism and imperialism to Cuba, the Philippines and Hawaii seemed to miss an essential point that the U.S. has always been expansionist. One has only to look at the sorry plight of the American Indians whose land was stolen and who were either killed or forced to settle on small reservations.

Interesting observation in light of my own recent reading. I recently finished The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell, which is about the early colonies, and her next book was Unfamiliar Fishes about the colonization of Hawaii.


message 2: by Kressel (new) - added it

Kressel Housman I'm now on my second Sarah Vowell book, and was pleased to learn that The Proud Tower was part of her research for it. So perhaps it was what led her to write about Hawaii later on.


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