history and the folly of mankind

I'm still wrapping my mind around Understanding Reading and, in that sense, have not yet "finished" with it. However, I've recently picked up (for at least the third time) Barbara Tuchman's The March of Folly which is one of the finest history books ever written. Tuchman makes no secret of her "purpose" in this book--she is not out to cover history and be done, she is out to cover history and use it to warn against folly in the future.

Her basic premise (which actually ties in quite nicely with Smith's ideas that students need to be given the opportunity to learn on their own and to make mistakes) is that mankind has failed catastrophically to learn from its own mistakes. She does not claim that individual rulers never learn, but rather that mankind has a habit of putting "wooden-headedness" (her word) over the interest of the state, humanity, or even ourselves. To make this point she travels through history (beginning with the Trojan Horse) and follows, step by step, as leaders and thinkers deliberately lead themselves into more and more trouble. It is not trouble in hindsight, it is trouble in real-time--criticized and questioned--and yet those involved seem unable to stop themselves and those who come after seem destined to repeat it.

I am only about a fifth of the way through (I'm embroiled in the Renaissance Popes at the moment)--but each time I read this book I am reminded of the necessity of looking at history and learning from it, not merely because we are "doomed to repeat it" but because the very act of stepping outside of the process gives us a sorely needed new perspective.

Next time: A final "Smith" wrap up and some thought on Quiller-Couch's The Art of Writing