Jacques Barzun is the dean of American intellectuals. From Dawn to Decadence is, in many ways, the crowning achievement of his long career. Not just cursory summary that one might expect of a book of this breadth, this 500-year study represents a major reexamination of Western cultural life, where it has gone, and where it is going. As the New York Times reviewer put it, "in short...peerless."
Jacques Barzun, one of the master historians of the 20th century, takes an encyclopedic look back at the past 500 years of Western culture, showing how the events of that period have played a huge role in defining what we are now. Touching on art, manners, morals, and religion, Barzun does a masterful job of literary synthesis. What's more, he writes in a lively, accessible style -- a wonderful surprise, given the subject matter.
How many times in one's life does one get to welcome a masterpiece, which, without a doubt, this amazing work certainly is?
Barzun writes with unfailing, stylish lucidity and enlivens his vast tale with ingenious devices.
In From Dawn to Decadence, Mr. Barzun shepards us through five centuries of Western cultures. The book is so readable, and its handling of even familiar matters so fresh, is its civilized, conversational, witty, jargon-eschewing tone of voice. It is a highly personal book without being an eccentric one.
Wall Street Journal
Preeminent scholar Barzun brilliantly and succinctly narrates the saga of 500 years of Western cultural history. He came to the United States from France in 1920, becoming professor of history at Columbia University and eventually dean of faculties and provost. To hear these tapes is like attending a fast-paced seminar from a professor with a lively and fertile mind. Chronologically, the topics range from Martin Luther to the Internet and include a mosaic of miniature portraits of artists and intellectuals that give meaning, color, and texture to each era. Barzun never ignores other interpretations and cites alternative sources on every crucial issue; the breadth and depth of his synthesis are breathtaking. The area most open to criticism is the treatment of the so-called "decline" of Western culture mostly things that annoy the 93-year-old Barzun, e.g., moral relativism, hypersexuality, and computer nerds. But his faults give the listener an opening for discussion. A magnificent book, ably read by Edward Lewis. James Dudley, Westhampton Beach, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
A great achievement. Encyclopedic without being
discontinuous, the book hardly seems as long, as
carefully constructed or as densely packed as it is.
Though the ideas it explains are often complicated,
the explanations it offers are limpidly clear . . .
The New York Times Book Review
An immense, ambitious panaroma of the period that historians call "modern" and that the venerable author believes is ending. Barzun writes with unfailing, stylish lucidity and enlivens his tale with ingenious devices, such as entering into the preoccupations of the past through a particular time and place (Venice in 1650, say, or Chicago in 1895).
Written with compassion, respect, dignity, and wit, Barzun's latest is probably the best single volume account of the evolution of modern Western culture to date.
The Christian Science Monitor
If you're not used to sitting on the edge of your seat for 750 pages, saying "Well, I'll be damned!" every paragraph or so, you should go into training before taking on From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun's intensely engaging history of Western culture after 1500.
This lively and opinionated survey of western culture marks the capstone of the noted scholar's intellectual career. Many academics can't be found in the pages they write. Barzun (former provost and professor at Columbia) is everywhere present in his. His seemingly limitless learning, wit, and always distinctive views shine in every paragraph of this, his first full-fledged trade publication since A Stroll with William James (1983). Few scholars combine erudition with such clarity and ease of expression as he does; few wear their learning so lightly or write so purposefully for the general reader. Now 93, Barzun seems to have read and to know everything. Starting with Luther's revolution within Catholic Christendom, Barzun describes, evaluates, and, yes, judges the events, people, and ideas that have composed the history of western Europe and its overseas transplants for a half-millennium. But this is no textbook: it sparkles and courses through time and places like water in a clean-running brook. Readers will gain new insight here into figures, movements, books, and ideas that are probably already familiar; they will also discover little-known individuals, works, and events. One of the book's distinctive features is Barzun's engaging method for encouraging his readers to deepen their knowledge. Rather than conventional footnotes or lists for further reading, he gives direct, parenthetical exhortations ("the book to read is . . ."). Also characteristically, he never minces words: early 20th-century intellectuals, he states, gave a "turncoat response" to the Great War of which they were initially "rabid glorifiers." In addition to suchbracingfrankness, the book justifies its price simply by the wonderful quotations that stud the margins of its pages. Barzun is pessimistic about the West's future, but his gloomy views rarely cloud his judgment and do not, fortunately, permeate the text. In every way, this is a book to savor. An extraordinary achievement by one of the glittering minds of our time. First serial to American Scholar; Book-of-the-Month Club selection