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From Dawn to Decadence

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.
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Nearly 100, the noted thinker contemplates the last half-millennium. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

Now 92, Barzun, the renowned cultural critic, historian and former Columbia provost and professor, offers much more than a summation of his life's work in this profound, eloquent, often witty historical survey. A book of enormous riches, it's sprinkled with provocations. For example, Barzun contradicts Max Weber, arguing that the Protestant Reformation did not galvanize the capitalist spirit. With feminist ardor, he depicts the 16th century as molded and directed by women "as brilliant as the men, and sometimes more powerful" (e.g., Queens Elizabeth and Isabella). His eclectic synthesis is organized around a dozen or so themes--including emancipation, abstraction and individualism--that in his judgment define the modern era. Barzun keeps up the momentum with scores of snappy profiles, including of Luther, Erasmus, Cromwell, Mozart, Rousseau and Byron, as well as of numerous unsung figures such as German educator Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergarten, and turn-of-the-century American pioneer ecologist George Marsh. Other devices help make this tome user-friendly--the margins are chock-full of quotes, while vignettes of Venice in 1650, Weimar in 1790 and Chicago in 1895 give a taste of the zeitgeist. In Barzun's glum estimate, the late 20th century has brought decadence into full bloom--separatism in all forms, apathetic electorates, amoral art that embraces filth or mere shock value, the decline of the humanities, the mechanization of life--but he remains hopeful that humanity will find its way again. This is a book to be reckoned with. First serial to American Scholar; BOMC selection. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

[From Dawn to Decadence] is arguably the best thinking man's bedside book ever written.?--Peter Green, "Times Literary Supplement"A stunning five-century study of civilization's cultural retreat."--William Safire, "New York Times""From Dawn to Decadence, in short, is peerless." --"New York Times Book Review"How many times in one's life does one get to welcome a masterpiece, which, without a doubt, this amazing work certainly is?" --"National Review"Likely -- I am tempted to say certain -- to become a classic."--William H. McNeill, "Los Angeles Times"Barzun writes with unfailing, stylish lucidity and enlivens his vast tale with ingenious devices." --"The New Yorker"[Barzun] restores color to faded memories of history and paints in the mural here bits were missing."--Sebastian Mallaby, "Washington Post Book World

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