118 of 127 people found the following review helpful
In Noble Pursuit of History
, May 31, 2000
This review is from: The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (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.
In any event the book is an excellent supplement to studying Machiavellian politics. The governments' "wood-headedness" towards policy that is counter to anything rational (as well as contrary to respected voices of reason) is something that all ordinary members and voters of a democratic society ought to take heed of.
The example of Troy is used simply as an example of how Homer and the Greeks had foreseen and probably experienced, the lack of reason when pursuing particular policy. This is usually done because those in power are so consumed by power and what it brings, that their arrogance and ignorance blinds them.
Without carrying this review too far into the book's wonderful and biting commentary, I will just say that this book is recommended, but not for those that have no real experience with intellectual historical study. Some areas will be interesting, such as the Vietnam chapters, but otherwise the book would dull the amateur historian. But if you do wish to challenge yourself and your understanding of how power corrupts and destroys after it corrupts, then "March of Folly" will be admired.
All politicians should be forced to read this book. Kind of like a supplement instructional manual for their job...paid for by taxpayers. Within 100 years, they might actaully learn something.
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