AHA Staff, May 1989
Barbara Tuchman, 77, twice a Pulitzer Prize winner, died on February 6, 1989. Ms. Tuchman's fourth book, The Guns of August, a study of the background and beginning of World War I, made her a celebrity after its publication in 1962. The book received critical praise and a sturdy niche on the best-seller lists. It also won a Pulitizer Prize.
She won her second Pulitzer Prize for Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, a biography of Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell. Her other books include The Zimmermann Telegram, The Proud Tower, A Distant Mirror, and Practicing History, a selection of short writings.
Born in New York, Ms. Tuchman did not choose the leisurely life, but pursued the historian's craft. Possessing neither academic title nor graduate degree, she found the writing life difficult due not out of a lack of credentials but due to gender. "If a man is a writer," she once said, "everybody tiptoes around past the locked door of the breadwinner. But if you're an ordinary female housewife, people say, 'This is just something Barbara wanted to do; it's not professional.'"
She received her B.A. in 1933 from Radcliffe College, where she concentrated on history and literature. She took an unpaid job with the American Council of the Institute of Pacific Relations and in the following year, went to Tokyo to help produce up an economic handbook of the Pacific area. While there, she wrote for two journals, Far Eastern Survey and Pacific Affairs. In 1936 she went to work for The Nation, soon afterward, she went to Valencia and Madrid to report on the Spanish Civil War.
By 1939 she returned to New York, and the next year married Dr. Lester Reginald Tuchman, a New York internist. Her first book was Bible and Sword, about the British colonial experience in Israel, and her second book appearing two years later, was The Zimmermann Telegram about a message sent from Berlin to a German diplomat in Mexico in 1917.
A person who could command respect, Ms. Tuchman had a firm sense of her vocation as historian. She understood the first task of any good writer was to obtain and hold the reader's interest by not getting bogged down in unimportant details of research.
Ms. Tuchman is survived by her husband, who is an professor emeritus of clinical medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine; a sister, three daughters, and four grandchildren.