From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present

3.7 15
by Jacques Barzun
     
 

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ISBN-10: 0060928832

ISBN-13: 9780060928834

Pub. Date: 05/28/2001

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Highly regarded here and abroad for some thirty works of cultural history and criticism, master historian Jacques Barzun has now set down in one continuous narrative the sum of his discoveries and conclusions about the whole of Western culture since 1500.

In this account, Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaisance and Reformation down to the

Overview

Highly regarded here and abroad for some thirty works of cultural history and criticism, master historian Jacques Barzun has now set down in one continuous narrative the sum of his discoveries and conclusions about the whole of Western culture since 1500.

In this account, Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaisance and Reformation down to the present in the double light of its own time and our pressing concerns. He introduces characters and incidents with his unusual literary style and grace, bringing to the fore those that have "Puritans as Democrats," "The Monarch's Revolution," "The Artist Prophet and Jester" — show the recurrent role of great themes throughout the eras.

The triumphs and defeats of five hundred years form an inspiring saga that modifies the current impression of one long tale of oppression by white European males. Women and their deeds are prominent, and freedom (even in sexual matters) is not an invention of the last decades. And when Barzun rates the present not as a culmination but a decline, he is in no way a prophet of doom. Instead, he shows decadence as the creative novelty that will burst forth — tomorrow or the next day.

Only after a lifetime of separate studies covering a broad territory could a writer create with such ease the synthesis displayed in this magnificent volume.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060928834
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
05/28/2001
Series:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
1ST PERENN
Pages:
912
Sales rank:
271,155
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.46(d)

Table of Contents

Prefacexi
Author's Notexiii
Prologue: From Current Concerns to the Subject of This Bookxvii
Part IFrom Luther's Ninety-five Theses to Boyle's "Invisible College"1
Part IIFrom the Bog and Sand of Versailles to the Tennis Court237
Part IIIFrom Faust, Part I, to the "Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2"463
Part IVFrom "The Great Illusion" to "Western Civ Has Got to Go"681
Reference Notes803
Index of Persons829
Index of Subjects853

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From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Let me begin by quoting from Jacques Barzun. He sees the book as ' . . . a chance to describe . . . some aspects of present decadence that may have escaped notice and and show how they relate to others generally acknowledged.' The forms of decadence that he identifies in comtemporary society include excess use of television, public images of a sexual and immoral nature, a decline in traditional religion and an upsurge in various sects, a decline in the nation state, a decline in support for the nation state, the rise of professional sports operated in an undistinguished way morally, and a general withdrawal from traditional forms of education and high culture. I mention this upfront because you may feel differently about the meaning of these same trends. At the end of the book, he writes from the perspective of the year 2300 about what happens in the next 300 years. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. He predicts that boredom will eventually drive people back into being interested in the traditional intellectual, social, and artistic paths of western civilization. At one level, he may well be right because the current technological revolution will rapidly reduce the amount of employment required for every day goods and services. Until more interesting ones are developed, a surfeit of cheap goods, services and entertainment may quickly become boring -- particularly if they are primarily consumed in a passive way. Barzun also tell us who his audience is: '. . . this book is for people who like to read about art and thought, manners, morals, and religion, and the social setting in which these activities have been and are taking place.' He also has assumed tht readers ' . . . prefer discourse to be selective and critical . . . .' His hypothesis is a defense of western civilization. 'I hope to show . . . that the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere.' This is an unusually long book, but the nature of the subject requires it. Certainly, I saw no place where the book provided too much or extraneous detail. To help the reader, the book is delightfully broken down into smaller units. The first is from 1500 to 1660 (the key issue was what to believe in religion), the second from 1661-1789 (the status of the individual and the mode of government predominate as topics), the third from 1790-1920 (government as a means to provide social and economic equality as the central issues), and the fourth from 1921 to the present (a mixture of all these past issues). Then, within each section, there are a series of essays that look at the primary religious, artistic, scientific, social, governmental, and thought developments. To tie all of these essays together, he uses concepts that he feels are continuing themes over the 500 years. To help these stand out, he CAPITALIZES them. Some of the major themes include PRIMITIVISM, EMANCIPATION, INDIVIDUALISM, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, ANALYSIS, REDUCTIVISM, SECULARISM and ABSTRACTION. To give the reader a firm place to stand, he includes several essays that are centered on a place and time to give a better sense of what it was like to live then. These are usually chosen to be near where the dominant themes were playing most strongly (Madrid in 1540, Venice in 1650, London in 1715, Weimar in 1790, Paris in 1830, and Chicago in 1880). What is good about this perspective is that it puts many things in context. You see the design in the mosaic as well as the design in the individual tile. Barzun adds to this by masterfully explaining why things happened differently than expected. For example, Luther in 1517, the French aristocrats in 1789, and the Russian nobles in 1917 did not intend to start revolutions. Luther tacking his theses was the equivalent of publishing an article today. What made it different was that the printing press allowed these ideas to spread. Barzun adds another perspective that is useful: the
LeoWong More than 1 year ago
This book covers a lot of ground at different levels. It is "mountainous" as the author said of one of his favorites, Montaigne. To help readers over the terrain, I have constructed an expanded table of contents of the book: http://www.murphywong.net/d2d.htm. Enjoy the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is surely a tour-de-force. It is the distillation of the wisdom and learning of one of the 20th century's greatest intellects. Any educated person should want to read it, will enjoy reading it, and will gain by reading it. In his review of 'western cultural life' over the past 500 years, however, Barzun exaggerates the influence and value of Frenchmen/women. That, my judgment, is subjective. So are Barzun's however. The impartial reader may be convinced by Barzun's claim that Hector Berlioz was the greatest master of melody since Mozart. Greater than Beethoven -- or Schubert? Than Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti? (And Wagner, Verdi, Schumann, and Brahms had also produced works of great melodic beauty by the time of Berlioz's death.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jacques Barzun presents a wonderful survey of ideas. It's the kind that I'll have to read at least twice to begin to absorb it. Still, his assessment of the 20th century is largely superficial. It might be better titled, 'From Dawn to Decadence: 430 years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to 1930.' Barzun seems less a scholar talking about this century than a cranky professor. Still, I recommend it for Barzun's wonderful way of weaving together the thinking and events of the last half millennium.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm still reading this book, and I'm reading it slowly because I am learning so much. I find myself making notes in the margins as well as jotting down thoughts and quotes in my journal. Anyone who senses something is amiss with our present day culture and wants to understand how we got here might want to try this book.
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BuzSA More than 1 year ago
After reading glowing reviews, I bought the book anticipating a great reading experience. Wrong. Maybe it's a case of the emperor's new clothes; no one wants to admit having difficulty following the author's writing because they agree with his opinions. Honestly, I don't think JB is capable of writing a simple sentence. Oh, the grammar, syntax, and punctuation are all fine, but the writing is convoluted. It's rambling. It's less history and more pontification. I thought that perhaps my reading level had slipped in the last few years, so I showed a couple of paragraphs to others, including my daughter who has a Masters in writing. Her response was, "That's how they told us not to write." If I could get a refund, I'd return it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For someone who evidently pontificated about being simple and direct, this book is the antithesis of both. Virtually every page drips with the condescending snobbery of a 'man of letters' who has seen and read about it all before. I was often left scratching my head at the end of a section, and wondering why I was forced to suffer the endless juxtapositions and what was the salient point of the bloated writing style. I am fascinated with European History, and if I had began with this book years ago I would have dumped the subject.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my first reading of this author. I must say he is delightful to read especially his handling of such an all encompassing subject.However ,I can see the French bias toward the English people every now and then.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Fortune of being a learned Citizen of this great Syetem . In respect of the system atomic weights and measures. I can only obtain what is only written in our presents :From dawn to Decadence :500 Years of Western Cultural Life,1500 to the Present. To understand is become in present nature.