37-38. Two by Barbara W. Tuchman

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37-38. Two by Barbara W. Tuchman

Post  Patguy on Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:04 am

The Guns of August
Stillwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45


“‘The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’”

Two histories by the great Barbara Tuchman. The Guns of August is the more famous book, concerning the lead-up to and opening month of World War I. I found the first few chapters especially compelling, almost reminiscent of A Game of Thrones in the way they lucidly explain the history, interrelationships and grievances of the great houses of Europe. But the rest of the book is nearly as strong, even when it threatens to bog down into lists of troop movements. Tuchman very nearly managed to explain World War I to me, something that seems impossible no matter how many books I read or documentaries I watch. There’s just something incoherently Old World and 19th century about the war that I just don’t get.

Stillwell is both broader and narrower in scope; it’s based in large part on the letters and private diaries of Joseph Stillwell, who served as a US Army officer in various capacities in Asia during the early part of the 20th century and throughout World War II, notably as Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief of Staff. Therefore the book is largely biographical, which is okay, since Stillwell was both at the center of some of the most important 20th century developments in China, and an entertaining acerbic character in his own right. I recommend it to anyone at all interested in WWII or the history of US-China relations. I had no real interest in the latter before reading this book, having been drawn to it only because I loved The Guns of August, but now it’s fascinating to me. Having read Philip Kerr’s books earlier in the year, I was also pleased to see Generalissimo Chiang described as “having a dictator’s instinct for balconies.”

“Character is fate, the Greeks believed. A hundred years of German philosophy went into the making of this decision in which the seed of self-destruction lay embedded, waiting for its hour. The voice was Schlieffen’s, but the hand was the hand of Fichte who saw the German people chosen by Providence to occupy the supreme place in the history of the universe, of Hegel who saw them leading the world to a glorious destiny of compulsory Kultur, of Nietzsche who told them that Supermen were above ordinary controls, of Treitschke who set the increase of power as the highest moral duty of the state, of the whole German people, who called their temporal ruler the ‘All-Highest.’ What made the Schlieffen plan was cumulated egotism which suckled the German people and created a nation fed on ‘the desperate delusion that the will that deems itself absolute.’”

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Re: 37-38. Two by Barbara W. Tuchman

Post  jrpstonecarver on Sun Dec 20, 2009 4:19 pm

Well, Patguy, you get the award for most reviews posted at once this year. It's going to take me some time to catch up on them all.

Do we get a comics round up too? Smile
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