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The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  7,415 ratings  ·  475 reviews
During the fateful quarter century leading up to World War I, the climax of a century of rapid, unprecedented change, a privileged few enjoyed Olympian luxury as the underclass was “heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate.” In The Proud Tower, Barbara W. Tuchman brings the era to vivid life: the decline of the Edwardian aristocracy; the Anarchists of Europe and Americ ...more
Paperback, 588 pages
Published August 27th 1996 by Ballantine Books (first published October 11th 1965)
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Start your review of The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914
Aug 24, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-war-i
How do you follow up a major success in life?

It’s a question I seldom ask myself. My last success was finishing the final two episodes of both The Night Of and Stranger Things in a single night, while drinking a $9 handle of rum and avoiding the sidelong glances of my pregnant wife, who is due any day. That’s the kind of success you only follow up with divorce.

Barbara Tuchman certainly had to answer that query. In 1962, she published The Guns of August, one of the most widely acclaimed works o
Aug 09, 2012 rated it really liked it

While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down

The City in the Sea – Poe.

This book is really a collection of essays published separately in various journals. Any book tackling the social, political and artistic situation of the world in the couple of decades before it entered its first global war, could only offer a partial view. These essays offer a series of selected aspects of this bellicose universe seen through shifting points of view.

There are considerable ab
Dec 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in World War One
Recommended to Lawyer by: Around WWI Group
The Proud Tower: Barbara Tuchman's View of the World on the Road to War

Channel Firing
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgment-day

And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worms drew back into the mounds,

The glebe cow drooled. Till God called, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as i
Wes Freeman
Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Engaging history of white people from late 19th century to WWI. Written by American journalist living in U.K. and published in 1966, book purports to be "A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914" -- which it ain't by a damn sight -- and works as a pretty good oil painting of the U.K., France, Germany, and the U.S. (with smatterings of Russia, Spain and Italy thrown in for spice) before they all started killing each other with gas and machine guns. Author shows us the political, social, ...more
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: wwi
The Proud Tower by Barbara W. Tuchman

Joy, Hope, Suspicion - above all, astonishment - were the world's prevailing emotions when it learned on August 29, 1898, that the young Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, had issued a call to the nations to join in a conference for the limitation of armaments. all the capitals were taken by surprise. That the call should come from the mighty and ever expanding power whom the other nations feared and who was still regarded, despite its two hundreds years of Europea
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: amateur historians
Recommended to booklady by: Folio Society
It is understandable that many do not ‘get’ Tuchman’s The Proud Tower. It is a collection of topics, almost disparate stand-alone essays, which seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. As you finish each chapter and begin the next, you are almost dumped into another country, subject, group of people—the world at large—wondering what this has to do with what you were just reading. But Tuchman has a very specific purpose which she explains in the Afterword, for once worth reading fir ...more
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, reread
It is a thankless job to write a book about the origins of a widespread conflagration such as the First World War. Where is one to draw the line? Where author Barbara Tuchman apparently drew it was the countries of Western Europe -- Britain, France, and Germany -- plus the United States. But what about the view from St. Petersburg or Vienna or even Istanbul? It is all well and good to talk about the rise of international socialism, but what about all the energies released by the decay of the Ott ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Michael by: Kalliope
I simply love Tuchman’s writing style, which tells stories around various figures and themes relevant to understanding the origins of the First World War. Except in her introduction and final scene on the verge of mobilization of armies she avoids explicit reference to the war because of the power of the lens of hindsight to distort the accuracy of historical truth. She leaves it to other accounts, including her earlier book, “The Guns of August”, to elucidate the political evolution leading to ...more
I remember this as an accessible account of the subject, with nice vignettes like Lord Salisbury being scooted around his garden in his bath chair.
Oct 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
With this work, Ms. Tuchman reminds me that she is one of the greatest historians to write in the English language. She admirably described those years that could very well have led to a previously unexperienced level of social enlightenment, yet instead led to decades of previously unexperienced horrors. Occasionally, I think about what the air felt like in 1913 Berlin; what would my thoughts for the future have felt like then? What relevance, if any, does that have for my thoughts today?

I was
B. P. Rinehart
Jerusalem (And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time) sung by Paul Robeson

Idealism vs Nationalism

This book follows on from my reading of Wedgewood's The Thirty Years War for me in my personal reading syllabus (I'll link to that below), and we are looking at Europe at the 25 years before WWI. This book followed-up Tuchman's breakthrough bestseller The Guns of August and was meant to capitalize on its success. It uses some previously published articles and some articles written for this book to show what
Jun 18, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
We humans like to think that there are single moments in our lives and in history around which the rest of history pivots. The point of these pivots is that they explain not only what comes after, but (and not unlike my new reading glasses) also snaps into focus all that went before. Suddenly the world makes sense. Strangely enough I don't think this was the experience the world had with the First World War – although it probably ought to have been. The war was so terrible (in the sense of strik ...more
Clif Hostetler
Dec 09, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Barbara Tuchman is a widely respected historian, and I have always assumed I'd get around to reading all her books some day (I read two of her books in my pre- days). I had not previously read The Proud Tower probably because the era prior to World War I is of limited interest to me. Things changed recently when Ken Follett came out with his book, Fall of Giants, and a book group I belong to decided to read, Edith Wharton's book The Age of Innocence. These are both fictional storie ...more
May 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is another outstanding book by Barbara Tuchman. It paints a vivid and fascinating picture of the world in the period before World War 1. I think she manages to avoid the obvious danger of seeing everything through the lens created by our modern perspective, knowing, as we do now, that the War was coming and that it would change everything about the world forever. The descriptions of society in Britain, the US, and in particular France (I found the in-depth explanation of the Dreyfus affair ...more
Brad Lyerla
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Europeans (and some Americans) who were alive as the 19th century came to a close were aware that they were living in a unique time. The French even coined a term for it, fin de siècle. In her foreword, Tuchman notes that fin de siècle often connotes decadence, but she explains that western society was not decaying so much as it was “bursting with new tensions and accumulated energies” as the 19th century closed and the 20th century began. THE PROUD TOWER is Tuchman’s account of these new tensio ...more
Jan 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
I finished this book mostly out of moral obligation. You get to read about the anarchists, socialists, and upper 1% right before WWI. The Dreyfus affair was kind of interesting. It was like each, very long, chapter was a book in itself. I was hoping to get insight into Eastern-Europe (e.g. the Austrian Empire and Bohemia and Poland), but there was nothing there.
Tim Robinson
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating, authoritative, relevant, sweeping, insightful, well written, magisterial, and far too long.
Evan Leach
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
In The Proud Tower, historian extraordinaire Barbara Tuchman takes on the 25 years leading up to World War I. Focusing on events in England, France, Germany, the U.S. and (to a lesser extent) the rest of the West from 1890-1914, Tuchman presents eight essays that, taken together, provide a revealing look at the “Gilded Age.”

The Patricians – England: 1895-1902

The first of two essays focusing on England, The Patricians presents the world of the top 1% in all of its shameless, decadent, nineteenth
Brian Eshleman
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I am convinced of that Barbara W. Tuchman could draw lasting principles about the behavior of humanity from a trip to the grocery store and could make understated comments on the folly revealed which are more and more penetrating as time passes. Couple that skill with the transformation so many have noted between 1890 and 1914, and we have a book that almost anyone would find worth reading. I doubt anyone else could have organized such a vast amount of material from a quarter-century and from so ...more
Oct 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written in 1962 about the period, approximately 1890-1914, leading to the start of WWI. Reading it now is at once surprising, and yet not, that despite the passage of 120+ years, two world wars as well as other numerous conflicts, many of the same issues and fights covered by Barbara Tuchman's excellent history still persist today. Nationalism, terrorism, the battles for a living wage, the richest in society against the rest, income inequality, us versus the foreigner, the blind stumbles into co ...more
Christopher Saunders
In a prequel to The Guns of August, Tuchman examines the sociopolitical world of Europe and America leading up to World War I. Unlike Guns’ narrative approach, Tower offers a series of interlocking essays probing the world’s major powers. Thus she looks at Edwardian Britain, its class system and politics ossified in late-imperial smugness and struggling to respond to colonial wars, Irish nationalism and labor and suffragist unrest; France, whose deep-rooted social, religious and cultural divisio ...more
Mikey B.
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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 expo
Jan 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
“See that little stream--we could walk to it in two minutes. It took the British a month to walk to it – a whole empire walking very slowly, dying in front and pushing forward behind. And another empire walked very slowly backward a few inches a day, leaving the dead like a million bloody rugs. No Europeans will ever do that again in this generation.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night (1933).

It’s not just us who find the Great War inexplicable; within a few years of its ending people
Mar 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is a book that I read many years ago, liked enough to keep and have now had time to re-read.

Though we think of our own time as one of great change, there was a feeling in the air at the end of the 19th century that will never again be experienced. It was a combination of innocence, wonder and anxiety produced by capitalism as technology and industry recreated the world.

The innocence came from a still powerful religious sense along with a strong idea of how things should be. But the lives pe
Genia Lukin
Jul 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Tuchman, as usual, is incisive and sharp in the best sense of these words. The book was not quite as fascinating to me as Guns of August has been, but then, that is really not much of a criticism, as Guns of August is a book one produces once a lifetime.

This book surveys the portrait of Europe and America before the First World War; it presents chapters on England, the Socialists, the Anarchists, a chapter on the Dreyfus affair, and another on German music and culture. It presents a world both v
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book just wasn't very interesting unfortunately. I had thought that that it would be a little more closely connected to the events that eventually led up to the First World War. The section on anarchists was interesting and so was the part about the Dreyfus Affair and the first peace/demilitarization conferences but most of the rest just bored me to tears.
Nov 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
I'm hesitating between a simple recommendation: "This was tremendous. Go forth and read ye likewise," and a more voluminous splatter of opinions and unhelpful comments.

No, actually, I'm not hesitating. The choice is simple.

Tuchman's object is to reveal the last decade or two of the Christendom, its pillars and its dynamiters. She covers the magnificent aristocracy of England in the first chapter. In their contempt of ideology the House of Lords were very Burkean, and incidentally reminded me a g
Bryan "They call me the Doge"
I had looked forward to reading this for quite some time, but now that I have finally gotten around to it, I'm feeling the effect of my high expectations. Tuchman seems best, to me, when she's describing an event, as in The Zimmermann Telegram; and although the individual chapters of The Proud Tower occasionally had the same kind of narrative thrust, overall, the 'portrait' style that she uses here does not seem to maximize her talent as an author.

The fact is, there is no single 'story' to tell
Patrick Gibson
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history aficionados
Recommended to Patrick by: NPR, of course
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 c ...more
Sep 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Back in high school (not for high school, just during), I read A Distant Mirror and was very impressed. So when I saw this on the shelf at the library, I snagged it.

This odd book. On the paragraph level, the writing is first rate. The scholarship is excellent. But the overall book is rather disjointed. There's no overarching thesis or storyline, so it ends up just being "here are some things that were important that happened in some countries that were important in this time span". Each
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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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“The proud tower built up through the great age of European civilization was an edifice of grandeur and passion, of riches and beauty and dark cellars. Its inhabitants lived, as compared to a later time, with more self-reliance, more confidence, more hope; greater magnificence, extravagance and elegance; more careless ease, more gaiety, more pleasure in each other's company and conversation, more injustice and hypocrisy, more misery and want, more sentiment including false sentiment, less sufferance of mediocrity, more dignity in work, more delight in nature, more zest. The Old World had much that has since been lost, whatever may have been gained. Looking back on it from 1915, Emile Verhaeren, the Belgian Socialist poet, dedicated his pages, "With emotion, to the man I used to be.” 14 likes
“Even the respectable have a small anarchist hidden on the inside.” 5 likes
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