Patrick Gibson'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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Apr 21, 09

bookshelves: history, truth_sort-of
Recommended to Patrick by: NPR, of course
Recommended for: history aficionados
Read in April, 2009, read count: 1

1850 is my favorite year. What? You don’t have a favorite year? Sure you do. It is the one you picked during the late night drunken college game of ‘What If You Could Go Back in Time Where and When Would You Go?’ I could waver a little on my date. 1849 or 1851 would be all right. And I’d have to land somewhere in Europe. Wagner, Beethoven, Brahms, Berlioz, Balzac, Hardy, Flaubert, Monet, Manet, et. al. where clustered either at the beginning or the end of their lives and the great Romantic Age crashed into the Industrial Revolution rushing pell-mell into the Modern Age. It was a great apotheosis of the arts. Did I mention Wagner? He’s my man, you know. Anywhere you turned brilliance abounded.

This past week on Bill McGlaughlins classical music program (NPR) his subject was primarily Richard Strauss (a God in the pantheon of Post Romantic composers) and his contemporaries. The name of the series was ‘The Proud Tower’ and between selections he read wonderful quotes. Assuming everyone knew what he was talking about he bypassed an explanation so it wasn’t until the third program the little light came on in my diffuse brain that the quotes and title were the same. At that point I still had no clue ‘The Proud Tower’ was by Barbara Tuchman whose only book I’d read was ‘The Distant Mirror.’ I was 20 and promptly dropped her from my litany of authors I want to pursue.

While ‘The Proud Tower’ doesn’t fit my favorite year category, it comes close. The subtitle is ‘A Portrait of the World Before the War 1890—1914. I tracked a copy down at Darns & Sloeble (they claimed there wasn’t a copy in stock and yet there it was on the shelf; so much for computers).

I absolutely marvel at historians. To be so obsessive and methodical with research is beyond my comprehension. Yet, there it all is. Tuchman encompasses the political, social, literary and artistic world before the Great War clearly and concisely. It was an age when titled land owners were coming to and end. Socialism was blossoming from the murk of industrialization. Composers and authors were rebelling against form. Other than the Boar War, the world was at peace. It was a fascinating time. There’s a lot to be covered, thus the 462 pages, but her writing is imminently readable and she has a crystalline way of tying people and events together. If you like history, it doesn’t get any better than this. Even if you don’t—there is an entire chapter on Richard Strauss. Pure heaven.
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