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Thursday, March 08, 2012

Tuchman joins Parkman and Adams

Long ago I read A Distant Mirror twice; remembering it now, I suspect that I might really like reading the book a third time. "The calamitous 14th century" had just as much to say to me the second time around as the first, and that was only partly due to faulty memory! Now two of her books have just been released in the Library of America, and Jon Thurber has an article about Tuchman and in praise of the opening of The Guns of August:

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun. After them came five heirs apparent, forty more imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens--four dowager and three regnant--and a scattering of special ambassadors from uncrowned countries. Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place and, of its kind, the last. The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.

The only other two historians in the series are Francis Parkman and Henry Adams, both of whom are crucial to American literature and history, so it's an honor for Tuchman and her books to be in such company. I shall have to read more of her.


  1. Yes, she is a great storyteller, and all the more fascinating because she is also a terrific and meticulous scholar.

  2. Lovely when the two things combine.

    Elsewhere, sent you some suggestions about publishers.

  3. I loved the Guns of August and -- what was it called? the Proud Tower? -- but I felt that her historical imagination failed her in A Distant Mirror. Her Sieur de Coucy feels to me like an 18th Century gentleman, not like a medieval lord, no matter how meticulous the research: she had a bit of a tin ear for religious life & experience, and that's fatal if you're trying to get the feel of the Middle Ages.

  4. Dale, I did like a lot of things about "A Distant Mirror," but can't say I remember it well enough now to agree or disagree! Isn't that wretched? I mean, I read it twice! But I definitely need to try those two--they are the LA books.

    I just ordered Nicholas Orme's "Medieval Children."

    Shall have to bug you some time to tell what history books you like. I have used quite a few but find there is only one that has been useful to me on more than one book. Three, in fact.

  5. That was James Brush, who blogs at, and I thought I recognized that name--he has had a lot of poems in Dave Bonta and Beth Adams's qarrtsiluni


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.