In assessing the French revolution, Jacques Barzun describes it as an upheaval that occurred "not so very long ago". For Barzun, who was born in France in and whose education was supervised by a great-grandmother born in the year of the final fall of the Bourbons, it is precisely that - an event of recent vintage - and it is one of the virtues of his vast, synoptic book that he makes the history of the past years vivid and urgent. For a generation for whom history largely comprises BBC2 theme nights on the s and s, it is a salutary lesson. Barzun's book, written in a light, lucid, epigrammatic style, reads like a set of notes drawn from a lifetime's contemplation of the route by which the US and Europe arrived at Eminem, George W Bush and the Millennium Dome. He offers a history of ideas, not a historical narrative; it is an interpretation, not a description, of what happened, which is why he gives parenthetical suggestions of other books to browse.

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Error rating book. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. 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 In this account, Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaisance and Reformation down to the present in th 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 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. Get A Copy. Paperback , pages. Published May 15th by Harper Perennial first published January 1st More Details Original Title. Other Editions Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about From Dawn to Decadence , please sign up.

Would it be hard to read if I haven't learned anything much about history? I started to read a few pages but i was just lost. How much do I need know to understand what he is talking about because I really want to read this book but I feel like I am missing something. Matt One could argue that this book is good for someone with your criterion: not having learned much about history.

Barzun looks at history, specifically c …more One could argue that this book is good for someone with your criterion: not having learned much about history.

I think one of Barzun's ideas with this book is to be able to get an idea of history as a whole by learning about the individuals constituting that history, and then extrapolating modern or future conditions.

That being said, his writing is both exact and lax. I would recommend reading his words slowly, and if you're hung up on an idea or even a phrase or word , stop and take some time to look it up. Use notes and highlighters if necessary so that you don't forget what you've learned. Stopping every so often to familiarize yourself with a word, person, or idea can become tiresome, but it is required for learning and being able to understand the author's argument.

Try reading this book again -- maybe even start at an era that you're already familiar with so as to get an idea of how Barzun sheds light on ideas and people during that time. Then transition to unfamiliar territory unfamiliar history with his approach in mind. See 1 question about From Dawn to Decadence….

Lists with This Book. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 4. Rating details. More filters. Sort order. This is a unique, idiosyncratic, provocative work that is definitely not a linear, dispassionate account, but a critical, personal and thorough re-evaluation of the modern era. It is, in my opinion, no coincidence that the only philosopher of science who really gets any attention in his book is Thomas Kuhn — who else. But I get the strong feeling that, in his ultimately conservative and possibly even elitist view of culture, these are aspects that would not gain his approval.

Coming to the history of philosophical thought, he has a clear preference for Schopenhauer - this is OK, after all he is one of my favourite philosophers! It must also be said that many important philosophers do not get mentioned, while for example obscure writers get the attention of the author. The author is erudite, highly original and insightful. These parts are riveting, instructive, of high scholarly value, fully rounded, and a joy to read — historical writing at its best.

Many very interesting points are elaborated convincingly and with strength — he destroys several common misconceptions and intellectual superstitions that have been perpetuated by much popular history writing.

There are so many interesting and original points that I can only just begin to list them within the constraints of a book review. His rendering of the unique and utterly fascinating Venetian Republic is masterful.

His debunking of the erroneous concept of the Middle Ages as divorced from the legacy and heritage of the culture of Classical Times is convincing and well argued. It must be said though that, maybe in the effort of pursuing originality at all costs, the author occasionally makes some questionable, or at least severely selective or highly idiosyncratic, statements: for example when he claims that "the Kaiser did everything in his power for Austria to avert war" — from what I remember this is a statement that, at best, only partially represents what happened: in reality Wilhelm and his Chancellor, after the assassination, incited Austria-Hungary to exact revenge against Serbia and pushed it to declare an ultimatum!

Events then quickly spiraled out of control, but Wilhelm appeared not to foresee or did not want to foresee the consequences of the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia, and when he later feebly attempted to scale things back, it was too late, and he was dissuaded by the German generals, who convinced him that Germany would easily win the war.

Hardly a committed pacifist, I would think. While I am one who agrees that WWI Germany has often received an unfair treatment in much historical writing, I can't agree with the apologetic attitude of the author in this particular instance. Apart from these issues, though, the author's historical writing is generally compelling, precise, very interesting and rich with insights.

I would personally add to the recipe the strong element of pure, simple element of randomness, and irreducible elements of feedback loops and of chaotic behaviour that necessarily govern multi-agent complex systems such as human societies.

The author narrative style is quaintly and charmingly unique, highly original, somewhat old-fashioned and ornate, but pleasant and effective enough to make reading this book a generally highly pleasant experience — it just takes a little while to get fully used to it. Many under-appreciated and under-reported authors and thinkers are dutifully represented, and this is highly laudable, but occasionally the author really goes too far, and in such cases the narrative becomes a dull list of unknown authors and books that are only very succinctly described, that are forgotten as soon as the reader turns the page, and that add absolutely nothing to the value of the overall story.

Regardless of these issues, it is important to highlight however that this is a very important and ambitious book, well written and highly insightful and original, interesting and a pleasurable reading experience, instructive and highly recommended to anybody interested in the Western cultural history of the last years.

View all 17 comments. Sep 06, Bentley rated it it was amazing. Brief synopsis: A book for the stalwart who love learning and intellectual gymnastics. A brain workout. I have to agree with Elizabeth S who reviewed as follows: A very deep read. One of those that, to really enjoy, takes more time than just the reading time.

It isn't a book to read, it is a book to experience. A book that, when you are done, you feel you know less than you thought you knew when you started. Overall, absolutely amazing. Jacques Barzun is extremely well respected and won the Nation Brief synopsis: A book for the stalwart who love learning and intellectual gymnastics.

For those folks who devote the time and the energy into actually reading and studying the book; this book is like a college program in cultural history.

You will learn that much. There are so many sidebar discussions and detours that one can take reading this book. I marveled at the knowledge and the breadth of Mr. Barzun's intellect. Yes, he did have a few opinions; but that made the reading that much more personal and sometimes controversial. This bears a careful, slow and thoughtful reading. Those folks who want a quick mystery or want to be entertained by a book will not enjoy this work at all.

If you give up on things easily, you will not have the stamina to complete this opus. This is not a Patterson or a Grafton novel. If you love to be tested, be prodded into exploring ideas and different ways of thinking, you will love From Dawn to Decadence.

The book has to be read continuously so that all of the pieces fit together and the reader sees their dependencies; otherwise you will be totally lost and not see the causal relationships. The book is really a marvel and easily years of a lifelong love of learning is poured into this cultural history masterpiece by Barzun - this is really his life's work and all of his learning along with the touch of a brilliant mind really inspired me.

You may not always agree with some of his opinions and statements. I found more than a few of these smile. But what is even more remarkable is that Barzun, himself, would be happy that you challenged him or his ideas So for those who do not give up easily and can persevere and accept challenges in learning and in life, this is the book for you. If you want to be entertained, you will never finish this book or like it one iota It is a little like undertaking War and Peace without those beloved characters; it is more like reading a college text.

I was in awe of the book; but I can understand that it is not for everyone.

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

One day the last portrait of Rembrandt and the last bar of Mozart will have ceased to be—though possibly a coloured canvas and a sheet of notes may remain—because the last eye and the last ear accessible to their message will have gone. It is closing time in the gardens of the West and from now on an artist will be judged only by the resonance of his solitude or the quality of his despair. The historian Jacques Barzun has been a voice of moderation and sanity in American intellectual life for some six decades. Born in France in , he came to the United States in For many years, he was an ornament to the faculty of Columbia University.


Barzun on the West

Published in , it is a large-scale survey history of trends in history, politics, culture, and ideas in Western civilization, and argues that, from approximately the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 20th century, the arc of Western culture comprises the beginning and ending of a distinct historical era. Barzun published the book when he was 93 years old, and described the book in its prefatory note as the culmination of "a lifetime" of study of Western thought. The first, spanning approximately to , revolves principally around questions of religious belief; the second, roughly to , around questions of how to arrange governance vis-a-vis the individual; the third, spanning approximately to , around social and economic equality; and the fourth continuing to spin out the effects and influence of the decisions made in those previous eras. It implies in those who live in such a time no loss of energy or talent or moral sense On the contrary, it is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance.


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