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Barbara Wertheim Tuchman

(1912 - 1989)

Barbara Wertheim Tuchman was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes for non-fiction in her historical books on men of war and on the brink of war. She was awarded her first prize for her fourth book, The Guns of August, a study of World War I, released in 1962. Her second Pulitzer Prize was for her book Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945, in 1971, a biography of General Stillwell, who played a major role in China in World War II.

Barbara Wertheim was born on January 30, 1912, in New York City, to Alma and Maurice Wertheim, both of their families were distinguished. Her father was a banker, publisher, philanthropist and was president of the American Jewish Committee, 1941-1943. Her maternal grandfather, Henry Morgenthau Sr., was ambassador to Turkey, and her uncle, Henry Morgenthau Jr., was Secretary of the Treasury under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

She graduated from the Walden School and in 1933, she received a B.A. degree from Radcliffe College. She was always interested in history and her honor thesis was titled The Moral Justification for the British Empire. Tuchman went to work for The Nation, a magazine owned by her father. In 1937, she went to Madrid to report on the Spanish Civil War. She also reported other events for other magazines. In 1939, she married Dr. Lester Reginald Tuchman, a New York Internist, and they had three daughters.

Tuchman wrote eleven books: The Lost British Policy , British policy toward Spain and the Western Mediterranean, 1938; Bible and the Sword , Relations between Britain and Palestine, 1956; The Zimmermann Telegram , a 1917 diplomatic message and its international repercussions, 1958; The Guns of August , the background and beginning of World War I, 1962; The Proud Tower , the quarter-century preceding World War I, 1966; Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-1945 , a biography of General Joseph W. Stillwell, 1971; Notes From China , A Trip to China, 1972; A Distant Mirror , The 14th Century, 1978; Practicing History, a collection of her shorter writings, 1981; The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam , some historical mistakes, 1984; and The First Salute , the American Revolution placed in an international perspective, 1988. In many of her books, Tuchman prepared herself by traveling to the areas where the events took place. Prior to writing The Guns of August, she went to Europe for an on-the-spot survey of the areas where the early land battles of World War I had taken place. She followed the routes that the German armies had taken through Luxemburg, Belgium, and northern France in their attempt to reach Paris. She tried to personally familiarize herself with the history that she was writing.

Tuchman had a good hold and feeling of her vocation in history and biography. She once told an audience that "the writer's object should be to hold the reader's attention. I want the reader to turn the page and keep on turning until the end. This is accomplished only when the narrative moves steadily ahead, not when it comes to a weary standstill, overloaded with every item uncovered in the research."

Barbara W. Tuchman died of complications of a stroke on February 6, 1989, at her home in Cos Cob, Connecticut. She left behind a better understanding of what preceded and followed the men preparing for war and war itself. She made history an enjoyable readable experience.

Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America: 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour “Sy” Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.