Barbara Tuchman and Compliance Programs


One of my favorite historians is Barbara Tuchman. One of the first large volumes of history I read growing up was “The Guns of August”, her Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the outbreak of World War I. The Library of America has recently released two of Tuchman’s works, the aforementioned “The Guns of August” and “The Proud Tower” which details the pre-World War I era, together with the personalities and events which led to the ‘war to end all wars.”

This love of history coupled with my interest in ethics and compliance was piqued by an article in the Saturday edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “A Heroine of Popular History”, by Bruce Cole. The article discussed the work of Tuchman as a popular historian and contrasted the books she wrote with those written by historians with a more academic focus. He quoted the historian Catherine Drinker Bowen, who had the following quotation over her desk “Will the reader turn the page?” I thought this question had particular relevance in the arena of compliance programs; as compliance professionals continually try to get the message of compliance throughout a corporation. So here is some of the wisdom of writing history that Tuchman advocated and how it might help the compliance professional convey the essence of doing business in compliance across a corporation.

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