National Book Critics Circle Awardees for General Nonfiction

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A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978)

Written by Barbara W. Tuchman

Barbara W. Tuchman—the acclaimed author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic The Guns of August—once again marshals her gift for character, history, and sparkling prose to compose an astonishing portrait of medieval Europe.

The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. In this revelatory work, Barbara W. Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant; how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serf, noble, and clergy alike. Granting her subjects their loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions, Tuchman re-creates the lives of proud cardinals, university scholars, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and, dominating all, the knight—in all his valor and “furious follies,” a “terrible worm in an iron cocoon.” (Copyright © Random House. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Penguin Random House Company.

Barbara W. Tuchman was one of America’s foremost popular historians and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for The Guns of August and Stilwell and the American Experience in China.

She graduated from the Walden School and in 1933, she received a B.A. degree from Radcliffe College. She was always interested in history and her honor thesis was titled The Moral Justification for the British Empire. Tuchman went to work for The Nation, a magazine owned by her father. In 1937, she went to Madrid to report on the Spanish Civil War. She also reported other events for other magazines.

During her early career as a journalist, in 1938, Tuchman published a book about the United Kingdom's policy toward Spain and the Western Mediterranean entitled The Lost British Policy: Britain and Spain Since 1700. She went on to produce two more publications in the 1950s: Bible and the Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, a historical analysis of the relationship between Great Britain and Palestine prior to the Balfour Declaration, and The Zimmermann Telegram, published in 1956 and 1958, respectively.

It wasn't until the early 1960s, however, that Tuchman achieved commercial and critical success for her historical writings. Her book The Guns of August (1962), a historical analysis of early World War I in which Tuchman dissects and criticizes events leading up to the war, earned her the 1963 Pulitzer Prize. She went on to win another Pulitzer in 1970 for a piece on the relationship between American and China during World War II, closely following the accounts of U.S. General Joseph Warren Stilwell, Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45.

Tuchman's other literary works include The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 (1966); Notes From China (1972); A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978); The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam (1984), an examination of the Trojan War and other events of Greek mythology, the actions of the Catholic Church leading up to the Protestant secession, the American Revolutionary War, and the Vietnam War; and The First Salute (1988), a historical analysis of the American Revolutionary War.

Barbara W. Tuchman died of complications of a stroke on February 6, 1989, at her home in Cos Cob, Connecticut.

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