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

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  6,707 ratings  ·  412 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 Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 1966)
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4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,707 ratings  ·  412 reviews

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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 absences. Fo
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 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
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
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.
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
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
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
Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
THE PROUD TOWER. (1966). Barbara W. Tuchman. ****.
In this highly researched and very readable book, the author examines what was going on in several countries just prior to WW I. Although she claims that other countries could have been picked, she decided on the final grouping using no real set of criteria other than interest to the general reader. “This book is an attempt to discover the quality of the world from which the Great War came...I have tried to concentrate on society rather than the
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
Tim Robinson
Sep 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Fascinating, authoritative, relevant, sweeping, insightful, well written, magisterial, and far too long.
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
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: amateur historians
Recommended to booklady by: Folio Society
Shelves: 2001, history
January 19, 2019: Over the Christmas holidays we went as a family to see Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old and it brought back memories of our trip* to the WWI battlefield of Verdun when we lived in Europe. So we decided that this and Ms. Tuckman's other book, The Guns of August would be our next listens...

*My singular visit and my husband's several trips there.

May 26, 2008: Folio Society sold this as part of a combined set with The Guns of August. Read (back in 2001) following GoA but sh
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
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.
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
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
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I've been punching out the four stars lately, but in justification, if the book is a two I usually just let it gather some dust. Even the threes take longer to finish and then I usually find some excuse to delay the write up. Fours I can consume like potato chips.... Munch munch munch. Supposedly reading is good for you, but after three hundred books this year, non fiction even, I know even less and less.

Tuchman is famous for "guns of august" which probably established the concept of the popula
Apr 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Tuchman's eight long form essays are a must read as an element in understanding the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries that led to 'the Great War'. The writer grasps and transmits concisely the role of socialism and anarchy to the general unrest and global psychosis that would erupt in August 1914 and bring the entirety of the world to the first step in global destruction. An often quoted and referenced historian, Barbara Tuchman draws a political and historical image of the fam ...more
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Barbara Tuchman is a very good writer of history. It's one of those situations in which you thank the Lord, or somebody, that this particular person decided to go ahead in this particular direction. I don't know if just anyone will enjoy "The Proud Tower," since it deals with a very precise period in history, the Victorian Age in Britain, or the time leading up to the First World War. However, for me Tuchman's book, while not actually revelatory (her book on the origins of W. W. I - "The Guns of ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not a comprehensive "big-man" history of Europe before World War One, but a series of highly illuminating essays in Barbara Tuchman's inimitable erudite, yet accessible style. Topics include the rise of Socialism and Anarchism; the tug-of-war between the culture of fin-de-siecle Vienna and the emergent political power of Berlin; trade unionism in the UK and how the English upper class preserved itself in a highly industrialized country. Tuchman fans will love this one; if you aren't a Tuchman fa ...more
Robert Isenberg
Feb 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ever wary of the Edwardians, I knew that Barbara Tuchman could enliven this dreary industrial period. And my, did she ever: The story of English nobility, mad anarchists, high-minded Socialists and the throbbing heart of impending war all become glaring signs of the world's most pointless and catastrophic olympiad. One can see the origins of German nationalism, the symptoms of French self-importance (by way of the Dreyfus Affair), and the transformation of America from a philosophical experiment ...more
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Tuchman is rightfully famous as a historian, but I found this book disappointing. It's a sound scholarly look at the period 1890-1914, focusing on the social movements within the powerful European nations & the United States that, according to Tuchman, set the stage for the outbreak of WWI. Unfortuantely, Tuchman doesn't obviously tie her thesis (presented in the introduction) to the rest of the book, and thus her admirable work on issues such as international Socialism, the Dreyfus Affair, ...more
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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
“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.” 13 likes
“Even the respectable have a small anarchist hidden on the inside.” 4 likes
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