From Dawn to Decadence : 500 Years of Western Cultural Life


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Nearing the century mark in age, Jacques Barzun caps a distinguished career of consistently remarkable literary and cultural criticism with this tour-de-force retrospective of the triumphs and tragedies of five hundred years of Western culture. Barzun concentrates on the historical path of ideas rather than simply recounting events, illuminating aspects of, for example, the Reformation and the Renaissance that have wended their way through the centuries to shape and transform our own lives and minds. As the title indicates, Barzun sees the twentieth-century, especially since World War I, as a new dark age, during which the gains so hard-won in the realms of political freedom, moral wisdom, and technological prowess have been progressively sacrificed and squandered. The signs: deconstruction in literature and the arts, lowered standards and political-correctness in education, relativism in morals. Strangely, though, this is not a depressing book. Barzun's crystal-clear prose and brilliant storytelling, his weaving of many mini-histories into a grand tapestry, his ability to successfully articulate difficult concepts -- all bear witness to an awesome caliber of genius to which even a dark age can give birth.

An Eighth Day View:

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.

Title:: From Dawn to Decadence : 500 Years of Western Cultural Life


Categories: General Topics,

Publisher: Harpercollins: May 2001

ISBN Number:: 0060928832

ISBN Number: 13: 9780060928834

Binding:: Paper Back

Book Condition:: New

Seller ID:: 173475