The fateful quarter-century leading up to World War I was a time when the world of privilege still existed in Olympian luxury and the world of protest was heaving in its pain, its power, and its hate. The age was the climax of a century of the most accelerated rate of change in history, a cataclysmic shaping of destiny.
In The Proud Tower, Barbara Tuchman concentrates on society rather than the state. With an artist's selectivity, Tuchman brings to vivid life the people, places, and events that shaped the years leading up to the Great War: the Edwardian aristocracy and the end of their reign; the Anarchists of Europe and America, who voiced the protest of the oppressed; Germany, as portrayed through the figure of the self-depicted hero, Richard Strauss; the sudden gorgeous blaze of Diaghilev's Russian Ballet and Stravinsky's music; the Dreyfus Affair; the two Peace Conferences at the Hague; and, finally, the youth, ideals, enthusiasm, and tragedy of Socialism, epitomized in the moment when the heroic Jean Jaures was shot to death on the night the War began and an epoch ended.
©1996 Barbara W. Tuchman; (P)2005 Blackstone Audiobooks
"It would be impossible to read The Proud Tower without pleasure and admiration." (The New York Times)
"Tuchman proved in The Guns of August that she could write better military history than most men. In this sequel, she tells her story with cool wit and warm understanding." (Time)
The wealth of information on various aspects of life in the period preceding World War I
Dreyfus' rehabilitation. The assassination of Jean Jaurès.
I have listened to many, and she is an excellent reader. She apparently knows French and pronounces most names correctly, but unfortunately leaves out the "s" at the end of one of the main figures in the book, Jaurès. It is tricky to know when the final "s" in French names is silent or pronounced, and before the age of internet it is not so easy to look up, so she should not be taken to task; I mention this only so that other readers should not be led astray in their own pronunciation of this name. Readers today, however, have little excuse to mispronounce foreign names as the correct pronunciation is easily found on the internet.
Parts of it (for me, some of the details of English political life) can seem a bit long, but the book is well worth one's patience.
This book helps listeners make and understand connections between social movements in different countries in Europe and America duirng the 25 years preceding World War I. I have listened to it twice because I am still learning from this book.
The history of the Dreyfus affair is fascinating, and it helped me understand some of the many social problems and insecurities in France at the turn of the 20th century. I also enjoyed learning about the history of socialist and anarchist movements in Europe. Tuchman also examines German composer Richard Strauss and rapid changes in classical music during the period before the war. There were scandalous operas and triumphant ballets - which is even more interesting because of the international importance of classical music in that period of tremendous competition between countries in so many aspects of military, economic and social life.
Nadia May has a warm and enjoyable reading style. I deliberately purchased other books narrated by her.
Prelude to disaster
I would very much appreciate music credits for books such as this one (and The Guns of August) that make use of a musical theme at the beginning and end of the recording. It seems unfair not to provide listeners with this information and it is certainly unfair to the musicians.
The Proud Tower opens with a description of the British Parliament, which had changed little since the end of the English Civil War and later it goes on to paint a picture of an equally archaic German near-absolute monarchy, it chronicles class divisions that would not have seemed unfamiliar to a medieval lord. But it also discusses the rising impact of liberalism, communism, and anarchy, the social forces that were spawned as a result of the industrial revolution. This book is ultimately about the clash between these forces, between the old world and the new. It demonstrates, though not intentionally, the dangers posed by both extremes and the benefits of compromise; but it also demonstrates that compromise was not always possible and, because of this fact, the eventual inevitability of the Great War. It is a story about the birth of modern western civilization and the pains we went through in achieving it. In many ways a prequel to her monumental work The Guns of August, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest either in the Great War or in our modern cultural, social, and political institutions and how they came to be.
European history professor specializing in English history 1870-1939.
I read it or listen to it every few years. It's absolutely riveting, either for a general reader or an expert in the field.
The death of Jaures.
An excellent work, all round.
I would have gladly paid double to have a version without Ms. McCaddon's attempts at accents for her non-English speaking quotes. Accurate or not, they distract from the flow of the book.
No. Too much detail for an audiobook. The amount of information is staggering and interesting but it is better suited to reading than listening.
This book, like all of Tuchman's popular histories, is sweeping, interesting for general readers, and easy to understand without being pedantic or shallow. What I've always liked about Tuchman -- her knack for analyzing the root causes of events without losing the colour and passion of individual lives -- is evident here, though somewhat less technically-adept than her brillian medieval history 'A Distant Mirror'.
However, this particular Audible.com edition is marred by the precious upper-class accent of the narrator. Listening to Tuchman's descriptions of English aristocratic privelege in the tones of a girl's private school matron is slightly annoying, but as this lengthy book progresses through chapters on American politics, popular culture and social mores, and the coming Great War, it becomes positively off-putting. I particularly dislike the narrator's tendency to put on goofy foreign accents when reading quotations by the characters Tuchman discusses (GB Shaw in drole Irish brogue, Petr Kropotkin in absurd Russian growl, and so on).
This book is a great value at the price, but sample the reader's voice before you buy.
As always, Barbara Tuchman's analysis of this time period is sheer brilliance. She is able to capture the zeitgeist of late 19th and early 20th century Europe and the United States with a clarity and beauty only a historian of her caliber can summon. Further, Nadia May's narration is just fantastic, she is easily one of the best audiobook narrators out there.
A penetrating study of the cross-currents of culture, thought and society in the decades leading up to the Great War. Is war programmed into the human species? Maybe.
Hard to detract from this book at all, especially since it delivered completely on its promise. The narrator is a perfect match for Tuchman's work which may be the only reason I marked down the story - to show how good the narrator is. I recommend checking this pair out in Distant Mirror as well.
If you are looking for narrative with protagonists and the like, it's here, but you have to bring your imagination. this is a period piece, a snapshot of the subjective and immaterial that, for me, brings history to life.
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