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The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,266 ratings  ·  408 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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Apr 02, 2010 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
Mar 16, 2012 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
Sep 04, 2013 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
Dana Stabenow
Oct 10, 2008 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
Erik Graff
Apr 26, 2008 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
Aug 15, 2007 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
Russell Bittner
Jul 19, 2013 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,
Jul 15, 2012 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
Michael Austin
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2020
The March of Folly is Barbara Tuchman, a top-flight historian, at her best. It is also history at its best. And it is people at their worst.

In nearly all of her books, Tuchman goes well beyond sterile descriptions, facts, and timelines to get to the heart of what happened and why. In The March of Folly, she does not propose to examine a specific historical event or time period. Rather, she examines an underlying cause of many historical events, which is that people are stupid. In her introductio
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
Clif Hostetler
Mar 14, 2012 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
Feb 04, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, second-cover
Barbara Tuchman was a journalist before becoming a history author, and despite The March of Folly being a book about certain historical incidents, it is more a work of journalism than history. It is an investigation into the process by which governments embark on self-destructive courses ('folly'), despite recognition of the problem, and alternative courses being available. As such, it is more of a screed against certain practices, rather than a real attempt at balanced or impartial history.

Jan 10, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Chris Jaffe
Sep 10, 2015 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
Aug 08, 2010 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
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Keith by: Book: Fathers and Sons in the Book of Mormon
Shelves: history, disaster
Contents (By section)
1. Pursuit of Policy Contrary to Self-Interest (This one chapter gives a succinct overview of the rest of the book.)
2. Prototype: The Trojans Take the Wooden Horse Within Their Walls (Again one chapter)
3. The Renaissance Popes Provoke the Protestant Secession 1470-1530 (With one chapter devoted to each of the major popes during this period, the abuses get worse and worse as time goes on.)
4. The British Lose America (20 years of fumbles - not paying any attention to the mood
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'd love to know what Barbara Tuchman, who wrote this in 1984, would think of the current U.S. political situation.

From the epilogue:

In America, where the electoral process is drowning in commercial techniques of fund-raising and image-making, we may have completed a circle back to a selection process as unconcerned with qualifications as that which made Darius King of Persia.

And what was that, you might ask?

When he and six fellow conspirators, as recorded by Herodotus, overthrew the reigning de
Feb 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Good topic, but a little dry, fairly dense, and not as good as The Guns of August. The author looks at the causes of four historical "folly" events - the Trojan Horse, 6 corrupt Renaissance Popes (leading to the Reformation and a sack of Rome), the lead-up to the American revolution (primarily from the British side), and finally French and American involvement in Vietnam and SE Asia.

These follies are chosen because viable alternatives were available and popularly supported, and the decisions wer
Dec 19, 2011 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
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In the end a fairly depressing book which acknowledges the failures of societies to govern themselves well. The focus is on spectacular failures: the fall of Troy, the spectacular immorality of the Renaissance Popes, the failure of the English to retain its colony when the Americans wanted to leave, and finally, the spectacular stupidity of the US in Vietnam. If you are like me the book will get more and more interesting as it gets closer to home. I remember just about everything about Vietnam, ...more
Feb 28, 2017 marked it as unfinished
I found the section on Troy extremely interesting, the section on the Popes not very interesting, and the introduction I found OK. Tuchman's thesis re 'folly' was a new viewpoint for me, so I'm pleased that I read as much as I did. There seemed to be an awful lot of 'facts' in each chapter. So I decided not to read the sections on the American War of Independence, and on Vietnam.
Alex Sarll
A magnificent, astringent and idiosyncratic work of history which I've owned for the best part of three years, and there's no particular reason I'm reading it now, honest. It looks chiefly at four famous examples of folly, defined as a policy which 'must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight'; equally, 'a feasible alternative course of action must have been available'. The third rule is that it must persist beyond one political lifetime, but little pr ...more
Sep 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another thought-provoking, well-written book by Tuchman. The book considers this question: Why do governments repeatedly and doggedly pursue policies that are contrary to their own interest? Tuchman calls this folly, hence the title. She uses the Trojan War, the Renaissance Popes Britain’s loss of the American colonies and the US’s Vietnam War to illustrate that pride, hubris, unchecked power, fear and outrage are often the drivers of poor policy and decision making. Some of my favorite quotes f ...more
Ben Shee
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Insightful, particularly for a history noob like myself, Barb's writing is full of relevant advice, reflected in the mistakes of the past. Although written in the 80s, the book remains valuable and interesting, and I always felt like I was in well-researched, objectively neutral hands when reading.

I came away feeling like I had learned quite a lot. I felt like I could better underrstand the pitfalls of bad government decision making and how to avoid making the same mistakes if I was ever in a s
Tyler Jones
Oct 11, 2019 added it
Shelves: history
Ambition, corruption, emotion.
The fear of looking weak. The fear of losing status. Inability to admit one is wrong and to change course. Inability to speak truth to power. Inability of power to act on truth when it is spoken to.
So it is, was...and will be?
There are some very sobering thoughts in here, and an urgent call to examine our own course of folly and, if possible, address the issue.
Marco Etheridge
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
Based on the current political climate, this book has been in my thoughts. I feel compelled to update my original short review. My first review read: " More pertinent now than ever. Have you ever wondered how powerful governments can make such bad decision? Then this book is for you."

Perhaps an inquiring reader will ask why? Allow me, in my small way, to answer that question.

"The March of Folly" was published in 1984 by Knopf. Barbara Tuchman, the renowned historian and writer, explores a basic
May 14, 2016 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
Nov 22, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
After reading The Guns of August I had very high expectations for The March of Folly. My expectations were perhaps too high as this book left me wanting more. Unlike The Guns of August which takes a narrative form The March of Folly reads more like a thesis with carefully selected evidence presented to support it. While I found her arguments well reasoned I could not shake the feeling that much of the evidence was carefully selected to prove her points while counter evidence was left out.

The Mar
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: academic-history
Spooky how little changes in 30 years or more. It does go on too long, in my opinion, but just imagine what she’d have to say about Iraq and Afghanistan....
'The March of Folly' was written by Barbara Tuchman (author of 'Guns of August'). The book, as the title implies, discusses various case studies throughout history in which governments defied reason and pursued actions that were to their detriment. The main examples that Tuchman discusses are:

1. The Trojan Horse
2. The Renaissance Popes (and the lead-up to the Reformation)
3. The British Lose America
4. America's Involvement in Vietnam

Below are the items from the book that I found interesting:

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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

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