The March of Folly brings the people, places, and events of history magnificently alive for today's listener.
©1984 Barbara Tuchman; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Among contemporary historians, Barbara Tuchman stands supreme." (Times of London)
"Admirers of her earlier works will find Barbara Tuchman's familiar virtues on display. She is lucid, painstaking and highly intelligent. She is also highly expert." (Sunday Times, London)
A transplanted Englishman, I spend my time on biography, history and military books. I appreciate good English and good narration.
First, the narrator is marvelous! I think it was Wanda McCaddon read 'Four Days in Naples' also. Her cultured voice catches Tuchman's impish humor and ironic twists with appropriate cadence and emphasis every time. Quite a skill.
Back to the Book. Tuchman fans rarely seek precis: the goes author delves into immense detail; no issue is left untouched by her sense of chronological context; her ability to describe a character comprehesively in no more than one or two phrases; a mildly irreverent sense of humor that adds a frequent light touch to serious research; her incisive judgment in final retrospect. All such components are vital in an appreciation of this fine writer's skill in helping us make sense of history. I have read 'The First Salute', 'The Guns of August' and this book. I must read more by her
I have to admit, Tuchman is one of my favourite historians and thus this book from her comes as a disappointment. The title suggested, a comprehensive history of folly committed by governments everywhere and of all times, but what we got is thematically divided episodes with superficial analysis on each theme. The theme was unequally distributed, one would think Renaissance papacy (a few hundred years in scope) would deserve more space than Vietnam War (20 years from French phase) but Vietnam War comprised one and half of the book, making Spanish conquest, War of Independent and Papal Monarchy de facto salad dressing.
This is the third book I have read by Ms. Tuchman (The Proud Tower, Guns of August, and Distant Mirror) I have enjoyed all of them. The audio reader is excellent and makes the book quite easy to listen to.
In the earlier books I found a very palatable approach to the writing of history. The nuances and depth that Ms. Tuchman adds is quite fascinating. I have kept coming back for more. When this book was released I ordered it immediately.
The first two thirds of this particular book did not disappoint. However the last third covering the US involvement in the Indochina/Vietname seemed to me to have a different tone. I found myself hearing a more judgmental, condescending tone to her analysis. Is it possible that due to the historical proximity of the events portrayed that she was unable to write in a more neutral tone?
I will not abandon Ms. Tuchman for this effort, but I will stick to areas where she is less likely to have a temporal bias.
I would certainly recommend it to friends who are interested in the same things I am, history and philosophy. I especially enjoyed reading not only the facts about the events, but also the overall significance of the (seemingly) inevitable consequences of the actions of the people involved in the decision making and how their characters and political circumstances added to the'March of Folly'. The author's clear and easy to follow writing style does not disguise her scholarship at the same time she does not condescend to her readers. It was great to think about history as teaching us about lessons which should be learned from past mistakes rather than a catalogue of facts, as part of the humanities and not only as science. It certainly gave me some new tools with which to gauge the words and actions of our political leaders and analysts of currents affairs, which is quite entertaining when consuming the vast quantities of news with which we are constantly bombarded.
The narrator was clear and entertaining to listen to, keeping one engaged with the lines of thought.
I found it very hard to stop listening when I had other things to attend to, and resented interruptions in the middle of a line of reasoning, which made me very antisocial while I was involved with this book.
This is a wonderful foray into varying bits of history with a sharp, well thought out theme. It is easy to be an armchair quarterback with 20-20 hindsight, criticizing leaders and governments for their failures and mistakes, but Tuchman gives us a clear target: leaders who had every bit of information and advice they needed at their disposal to change course, but could not bring themselves to do so. Tuchman never strays from her theme and gives an invaluable lesson for those who can find it in themselves to be introspective. This should be required reading for any modern leader.
As with any Tuchman book, her writing is brilliant; articulate, witty, and kept me captivated throughout.
Wanda McCaddon's reading is superb, capturing Tuchman's wonderful writing style perfectly - at least as perfectly as an Brit can capture an American's "voice".
Yes. The book is well written and full of interesting information, and the subject is one that touches us all.
Tuchman's The Guns of August, much more detailed and narrowly focused, but also giving us a sense of the folly of war, and the frequent folly of those who make the decisions.
A considerable portion of the book is about the Vietnam war. For those of us who were living when it took place, there is a lot to learn from the book: do not imagine being there to read newspapers and to watch the news gives you insight into what happened! The other portions about earlier events are also full of insight as well as exciting.
Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.
The book takes way too long in explaining every single historic event in the book, with very little payoff to talk of. I forced myself to march on and keep listening, but it was all in folly.
As I liked "A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century" and "Guns of August" a lot, I gave this book a try as well. In response to an ealier reviewer: Yes, the last part about Vietnam is a bit more moralistic, but I enjoyed that and at times even thought it was humorous. It seemed to me all the other chapters were working up to the Vietnam bit and the parallels drawn between earlier acts of folly and the US policy in South-East Asia made me smile. I would recommend this book (or this download).
There were magnificent aspects of this book and equally terrible ones.
First, the book was published in 1984 - 27 years prior to my reading it. The content of the book - the dissection of epic failures of leadership in history - is still as compelling as ever. For example, upon listening to the account of King Montezuma's approach to marauding Spaniards drew an immediate parallel to me of the way in which US President Obama has deigned to handle disputes with Congressional Republicans who've publicly stated their primary goal as being the destruction of the President at all costs.
Many lessons in history are prescient and almost all of Ms. Tuchman's eclectic selection of stories (I don't understand why Troy is included though, as it's, as the author essentially admits, more mythology than history) from history are indeed excellent studies for all leaders - regardless of whether leading in politics, business, local groups, classrooms.
Second, the detail of the accounts are scrupulously laid out and points are painstakingly substantiated. Of course, audio books don't have the luxury of a bibliography to review, but for a few reasons, I'm convinced Ms. Tuchman's accuracy is beyond reproach.
On the down side, the narrator is utterly infuriating. I'm in the US and the narrator is from the UK. I've worked with folks from and have been to the UK. I've always found the Queen's English to be quite pleasant. But until this narrator, I've never spoken with any British person who spoke just like Elmer Fudd.
Maybe I'm just too intolerant, but "heawing of the tehwwible results of" this speech affect forced me to take this book only in small doses. And at 17+ hours, it made the consumption of the work a long and sometimes painful process.
Last, the book's theme. The introduction's torturous defining of "folly" and the conclusion's ham-fisted effort to mash these tales of failed leadership (which IS it's actual theme) together under that definition is awkward at best.
The March of Folly is a book that seems like it could've started at discussion at my dinner table. Unlike such discussions around my table however, Ms. Tuchman has facts and an extensive knowledge of history to back her up. Ms. Tuchman has written more extensively about most of the areas she covers in this book before ; it's as if all of her previous research and writing led her to some bigger idea. In short, she deals with the question of how it is that governments can act against their own self interest, despite being forewarned about the likely outcome of its actions. Problem is, there are no easy answers, because, at the time the bad decisions are made if one did have the right answer, they would be treated as a Cassandra. When in the middle of stressful times, reason does not often prevail. I love Barbara Tuchman's writing. She writes in a way that allows me to visualize what she is writing about. I read The Guns of August just about each summer. There is so much to learn from the past; I'm just never really certain what the past is telling us to do in the future. It seems like the only answers we have are what NOT to do. I have enjoyed this most recent summer 'reading' with Barbara Tuchman, and wish I had someone like her sitting at my dinner table.
"An interesting and absorbing book"
This book should be of interest to anyone who wants to understand better how Governements can sometimes make a terrible mess of their business. It tries to draw lessons from one semi-fictional (the Fall of Troy) and three real life episodes from history-the last two - the loss of the Amreican colonies and Vietnam - are worth the price of the book on their own.
Although the author sets out the events, this is not narrative history as she intersperses her judgments, analysis and opinions as she goes through. This is OK if you have some familiarity with the history, but can be confusing - as it was for me when she dealt with the creation of Protestantism - if you are not.
I think this must be quite an old recording as the editing was not what you expect - but the narrator is excellent, with great judgement of pace and tone, always important, I think, for narrated history books.
Barbara Tuchman is a very fine historian, and I intend to get another of her books with next month's credit. In the meantime, I can recommended this book wholeheartedly.
"it's not her best"
...quite the contrary. It is basically about the Vietnam war, the rest is just there to provide other examples of the mistakes make in the Vietnam war section - which, in itself is very good. And as for treating Homer as history....
Could have sounded less grumpy
Barbara Tuchman always had a tendency to sound omniscient. The narrator sounds quite exasperated at all times
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