What Makes A Good Writer? It May Start With Being A Good Reader – Consider Barbara Tuchman


What makes a good writer?  It may start with being a good reader.

And what makes a good reader?  It may start with a love of books.

And what creates a love of books?  That’s tougher to answer…  But for those who are lucky enough to love books, we have our champions.  Like Barbara Tuchman.

Barbara Tuchman

Bob posted this earlier: Summer Reading Picks from Dan Pink, Seth Godin, Eliot Spitzer, and More.  It was written by William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company magazine and coauthor of Mavericks at Work. His next book is Practically Radical.  Taylor asked Pink, Godin, Spitzer, and others about their favorites.  And then he shared a couple of his own favorite books.  This is about his second choice:

My second choice is The March of Folly by historian (and two-time Pulitzer winner) Barbara Tuchman. She looks at some of the great failures of leadership in history — the Trojan War, British reactions to the American colonies, Vietnam — and teases out lessons that illuminate more current leadership crises.

So, who is Barbara Tuchman?  Tuchman twice won the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction, first for The Guns of August in 1963, and again for Stilwell and the American Experience in China in 1972.  A renowned historian, she was first and foremost a lover of learning, which flowed from her love of books.

In Practicing History, she tells the story of “the single most formative experience” in her career.  It is about a moment that happened in her first trip into the stacks of a great library.

In the process of doing my own thesis – not for a Ph.D., because I never took a graduate degree, but just my undergraduate honors thesis — the single most formative experience in my career took place.  It was not a tutor or a teacher or a fellow student or a great book or the shining example of some famous visiting lecturer – like Sir Charles Webster, for instance, brilliant as he was.  It was the stacks at Widener.  They were my Archimedes bathtub, my burning bush, my dish of mold where I found my personal penicillin.  I was allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window, queerly called, as I have since learned, carrels, a word I never knew when I sat in one.  Mine was deep in among the 9425 (British History, that is) and I could roam at liberty through the rich stacks, taking whatever I wanted.  The experience was marvelous, a word I use in its exact sense meaning full of marvels.  The happiest days of my intellectual life, until I began writing history again some fifteen years later, were spent in the stacks at Widener.  My daughter Lucy, class of ’61, once said to me that she could not enter the labyrinth of Widener’s stacks without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle.  I too was never altogether sure I could find the way out, but I was blissful as a cow put to graze in a field of fresh clover and would not have cared if I had been locked in for the night.

This is primarily a blog about business books, authors of business books, ideas found in business books, and general observations about business and life.  But every now and then, we need to reconnect with the starting point – a pure love of books.  Barbara Tuchman was captivated — won over — by the stacks at one of the world’s great libraries.  It is a feeling I understand.

a look into one library's stacks

One thought on “What Makes A Good Writer? It May Start With Being A Good Reader – Consider Barbara Tuchman

  1. Hi Randy,
    Greatly enjoy your posts.
    Might there be interest in reviewing my recently
    published (7th) book, “222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices.” (Jones & Bartlett Publishers)?
    Its’s not as transformative as the books you typically write about . . but very practical with countless examples from the healthcare professions.

    Bob

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