The Washington Post
Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mindby Michael Murray
Michael Murray’s Jacques Barzun is the story of the career and ideas of one of the twentieth century’s leading intellectuals. Jacques Barzun was the author of some thirty books of biography, history, and cultural criticism, among them the best-sellers The House of Intellect, an indictment of governmental and foundation interference with the autonomy of scholars and universities, and From Dawn to Decadence, an argument that the West was falling into decay and incapacity.
Barzun was the author of a definitive life and times—Berlioz and the Romantic Century—which helped to restore a maligned composer to his place in the front rank, and to reassess a creative period then widely considered corrupt. And he composed a definitive biography (though not in the usual sense of the word) in his affectionate reminiscence of his intellectual mentor— A Stroll with William James.
Barzun’s influence was great but subtle, perhaps because of the range of his interests. For example, in the 1930s he was in print deploring the superstition of race; and books followed that cast light on Marxism, on the putative gulf between science and the humanities, on teaching and learning in schools and colleges, and on the social importance of the life of the mind. Science: The Glorious Entertainment was one such book, as were Teacher in America and Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage.
His scope also suggests why Barzun as thinker is impossible to tag. Certainly he opposed the breakup into contending factions of his own field, historiography, and he decried the loss of collegiality among scholars in all disciplines. Specialization that sank into specialism ran counter to all that he stood for.
Michael Murray describes Barzun’s childhood in France, university training in the United States, work at Columbia University and as literary adviser at Charles Scribner’s Sons, and, insofar as pertinent to his thought, his marriage into the Boston Lowells and his relation with the New York intellectuals.
The Washington Post
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Meet the Author
Michael Murray compiled, edited, and introduced A Jacques Barzun Reader (2002), and is the author of Marcel Dupré: The Work of a Master Organist (1985), Albert Schweitzer, Musician (1994), and French Masters of the Organ (1998). He teaches a graduate course in library research and bibliography at Ohio State University.
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