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The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam Paperback – February 12, 1985

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Editorial Reviews


“A glittering narrative . . . a moral [book] on the crimes and follies of governments and the misfortunes the governed suffer in consequence.”—The New York Times Book Review
“An admirable survey . . . I haven’t read a more relevant book in years.”—John Kenneth Galbraith, The Boston Sunday Globe
“A superb chronicle . . . a masterly examination.”—Chicago Sun-Times

From the Publisher

Barbara Tuchman defines folly as "Pursuit of Policy Contrary to Self-Interest." In THE MARCH OF FOLLY, Tuchman examines 4 conflicts: The Trojan Horse, The Protestant Secession, The American Revolution, and The American War in Vietnam. In each example an alternative course of action was available, the actions were endorsed by a group, not just an individual leader, and the actions were perceived as counter productive in their own time. Many individuals are guilty of folly (Tuchman also calls this woodenheadedness), but when governments persist in folly, their actions can adversely affect thousands, even millions of lives. Folly is a child of power. "The power to command frequently causes failure to think."(p.32). THE MARCH OF FOLLY may not be as well known as A DISTANT MIRROR and THE GUNS OF AUGUST, but it is my favorite of her works. I heartily recommend it to any Tuchman fans who have not yet discovered it.

Randy Hickernell
Ballantine sales rep

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 447 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (February 12, 1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345308239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345308238
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

108 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Brian K. Peterson on May 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
Barbara Tuchman has a way of viewing history as few can. Instead of falling back on just "telling of a story," Tuchman does what few historians are able to pull off without sounding self-rightious. She gives us a comentary. Kind of like the "color-man" while listening to a sporting event, Tuchman examines the idea of "folly," or the persistent pursuit of a policy by government or those in power that is "contradictory to their own interests." Since a topic like this could take volumes, the author chooses 4 primary historical examples: the Fall of Troy, the breakup of of the Holy See in the 16th century, the British monarchy's vain attempt to keep the American colonies, and America's own arrogant persistence during the Vietnam War.
The fault in this book is that this subject matter can be pretty exhausting even with the only 450 page book. The examples used are valid and make sense. The author finds something different within each one that allows us to see the many levels of government folly. However I found the chapters dealing with the six terrible popes to be mind-numbing. Perhaps it's due to the fact that this history is not examined extensively in current day curricula like the American Revolution and Vietnam, but I think this section was tedious and repetitive. Also, within the Vietnam chapters, Ms. Tuchman tends to reveal her adoration towards Kennedy--like many historians of her era--and her disdain of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. This can distort her objective examination of the topic in some areas, but if it is noticed and ignored, the rest of the study is outstanding. Some may read these excerpts and label them as "liberal" but they are ignorant of history.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Chris on October 15, 2006
Format: Paperback
Other reviewers have suggested that this is not one of Tuchman's best books. This may not be a fair observation in comparison to "Guns of August" or "The Calamitous 14th Century". Overall I found this book to be a concise and well-written work with the chapters well organized and consistent.

Some reviewers have pointed out that this book may have been intented to viel a criticism of the US war in Vietnam. Whether that is the case or not, it seems evident that referring to the Vietnam war as folly is hardly controversial these days. True, her points may be relevant to the current Iraq war, but I think that the larger point that she is trying to make is that folly applies to many political and military conflicts between nations. If her comments apply to the Iraq war, could they not also apply to Serbia's Balkan wars, or Chechnya, or the UN's disjointed attempts at reining in North Korea or Iran? Her points and concerns raised through these case examples are worth considering in modern times throughout dozens of current conflicts worldwide.

All in all, this is an excellent book. fans of Tuchman or history in general will not be disappointed.
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111 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Jay Stevens on November 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the same way that Pauline Kael used her movie reviews, Barbara Tuchman uses history as an outlet of moral yearning. Every book is a cry of pain and joy for the injustices and beauty of life. Tuchman chooses her subjects carefully to convey a message to her readers, usually a cautionary tale of the abuse of power.
"The March of Folly" is her most direct message yet. In it, she describes the folly of government-defined as action against self-interest despite an overwhelming preponderance of evidence to act otherwise-and how it led to several notable disastrous events. Namely, the sack of Troy, the split of the Catholic See, the loss of the American colonies, and the policy of Vietnam.
But let's face it. Tuchman wrote this book with the Vietnam chapter in mind. Each chapter simply lays the groundwork for the material on Vietnam.
The chapter Trojan Horse provides us the groundwork, the mythic case of folly we are all familiar with, and the lasting image we carry as we consider Vietnam.
The Renaissance popes provides us an example of a self-perpetuating and stale system we can remember when thinking of a moribund Congress mindlessly voting appropriations for a war no one wanted. Consequently that same chapter gives us the image of a pope throwing lavish parties for which he hired prostitutes to crawl about on all fours, completely naked, picking up scattered chestnuts with their mouths-which might remind some of our own nation's zeal in its misuse of third-world nations-El Salvador, Iran, Panama, and Vietnam spring to mind-in Cold War play.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By C. Collins on November 21, 2004
Format: Paperback
Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly certainly is an interesting and informative book. I give this excellent book 5 stars even though there are a few concerns I had on a few of her assertions and a wish for more detail in other areas.

One strength of the book is Tuchman's effort to define "folly" with a strict criteria and then compare events from history to that criteria. Basically she defines "folly" as the pursuit of policy against self-interest in the face of evidence contradicting the wisdom of the policy. Further, the "folly" must be counter-productive and the decision of a group rather than an individual. The "folly" must continue despite dissenting voices and articulated options or alternatives.

The chapters on the Renaissance Popes was very entertaining and decadent. Tuchman takes the reader through the papacy of Sixtus IV (from the powerful della Rovera family)who expanded the college of Cardinals to meet his policitical ends; Innocent VII who indulged his son and promoted the rise of the Borgia and Di Medici families in the papal court; Alexander VI who would have to be considered as the worst pope in history due to his total conversion of his religious office into a secular worldly power; Julius II (another della Rovera) who was a warrior pope and the patron of Michaelangelo; Leo X (a di Medici) who used the papacy for indulgence and gain of his Florentine family; and Clement VII who became the virtual prisoner of Emperor Charles V after the invasion and conquest of Rome.

The story of these 6 popes is a wild tale full of murder, treachery, theft, bribery, sexual depravity, and power politics. In short, the Papacy had become a secular state during this period and Realpolitic was the driving philosophy rather than a church concerned with Christianity.
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