WHEN BARBARA TUCHMAN died in February 1989, leaving behind a long shelf of readable historical best-sellers, the New York Times remarked in an editorial tribute that "stuffy professorial reviews" of her work hadn't mattered because she had "made readers care about a thousand dusty yesterdays." The premise that readability and accuracy or depth need be at odds in historical writing is a familiar but mischievous notion, fostered by parties on both sides of the imagined barrier.
Barbara Tuchman would have done well to take the professorial reviewers more seriously than she did. But the gulf between the gifted amateur and the professional student of history is a relatively recent, and often pointless, problem in American culture. It emerged only as historical study and writing began to be professionalized a century ago. Most of the early master historians writing in English, here and in England ( Parkman, Prescott, Adams, Macaulay and Gibbon, to mention five) were self-schooled amateurs. The closest among the five to a historical professional was HenryAdams