Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Tracing political self-interest across the ages, The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam offers an alternative view for a woman’s understanding of Western world government. Barbara Tuchman employs the legend of the wooden horse as a paradigm to interpret three points in history (late fifteenth century through late twentieth century) when political leaders were duped into blundering badly at the expense of the masses. Tuchman’s scholarly trek into the masculine domain of political power considers a woman’s historical perspective of how and why world leaders keep repeating the moral mistakes that plague humanity. Folly is difficult to discern, says Tuchman, because people have a tendency to bury trauma when no one wants to admit fault. Then, too, the collective psyche of a nation neglects coming to grips with reason when folly robs political leaders of rational choices and mismanagement follows those individuals with the power to dupe the masses. Therefore, political self-interest has devastating effects on humanity, having become the sacred cow that pushes world leaders toward a pattern of policy that is contrary to common sense. If military prowess is the heart of tyranny, then moral ineptitude is the soul of folly, claims Tuchman, and that ineptitude remains the mindless plaything of deceitful leaders who ignore alternative answers for constructive change.

The book’s introductory chapters examine a multitude of occasions of faulty...

(The entire section is 538 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

A number-one best-seller, The March of Folly explores blunders in history that attract people who desire to learn the patterns of misgovernment. Tuchman claims that moral failure culminates in mass suffering and states that asking tough moral questions is the ultimate test of moral courage. Government needs people who are willing to speak up, she says, for protection from stupidity in policy making. Thus, one should not be blind to discontent when the rejection of reason restricts freedom of choice and folly’s illogical aftermath leads policy makers into oft-repeated errors. On the contrary, women such as Cassandra, whose rational alternative was to have the wooden horse searched for soldiers, must assume the moral responsibility to keep questioning inept policy making, since prototypes such as Cassandra’s father Priam, Clement VII, and King George III are forever being duped. Bad policy making exposes humanity to disaster.

Folly will continue as long as image makers lust for power and reject reason. The March of Folly encourages women to study the roots of Western civilization in order to compare the temptations that follow moral failure in society. Tuchman appeals to all women. Her wit and penetrating insight challenge them to tap their moral courage, learn from experience, and reverse a persistence in error that leads to misgovernment.


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Emerson, Gloria. Winners and Losers. New York: Random House, 1976. A former foreign correspondent for The New York Times, Emerson reflects on the cultural and ethnic differences that gave rise to the ideological clashes the West faced in Indochina. Her anecdotal approach to history includes the use of taped interviews and diary accounts, including those of former prisoners of war. Emerson shows an awareness of the common person’s feelings and fears regarding the Indochinese wars.

FitzGerald, Frances. Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972. A Pulitzer Prize-winning account of the political and cultural history of Vietnam. The rift between Vietnamese culture and the American sense of progress is explored in terms of the West’s misunderstanding of the National Liberation Front. Has an index and a bibliography.

Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. Review of The March of Folly. The New York Times, March 7, 1984, p. C21. A critical review centered on Tuchman’s inability to weave a story line around four separate incidents concerning folly into a cohesive whole. Human folly is too complex, according to the author, to be discussed in terms of unrelated episodes in history. Such generalizations are superficial.

Tilly, Charles. Review of The March of Folly. American Historical Review 90 (April, 1985): 386-387. A critical review treating the work as tautological and unhistorical yet entertaining. Tilly says that Tuchman lacks variety in the four historical accounts, which makes for repetitive tales of rejection of reason, showing nothing more than disagreement with people’s words and actions.

Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History: Selected Essays. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1981. A collection of articles and lectures by Tuchman concerning the writing of history. Offers important insights into her views as a historian.