Jacques Barzun: From Dawn to Decadence

1500 to the Present    

Harper Perennial, 2001     Amazon.com


From Dawn to DecadenceThe bestselling (New York Times No. 3) history chronicling half a millennium of Western culture. From Dawn To Decadence is the French-American historian Jacques Barzun’s great opus. It is the product of a lifetime of separate studies which he now sets down in one powerful narrative, interspersing his entertaining analysis of wars, philosophy, science, manners, sex, religion, morals, art, et al., from the Reformation to the present day, with biographical sketches of influential historical figures (including Luther, Charles V, Descartes, Bacon, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Cromwell, Peter the Great, Defoe, Swift, Rubens, Bach, Byron, Pascal, Florence Nightingale, James Joyce!) His positive conclusion is that the decadence of the current age is merely a watershed for a new age in which Western culture will again flourish. This is heavyweight history written with great wit and verve, comparable in scope with the Big Ideas and Big Themes history of Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, which was a huge bestseller that was first ‘made’ in the US, and Paul Johnson (The Birth of the Modern; Intellectuals; Twentieth Century Britain). With Barzun’s lucid and easy style it is also a very accesible book which will be eagerly devoured by history and culture lovers alike.

“This astonishing and monumental work may fairly take its place alongside Gibbon, and for much the same array of qualities: a majestic view of five hundred years of history, done in great style, with vast erudition and a continuously entertaining idiosyncrasy of judgement.’  Alistair Cooke

‘To define Western culture is the most delicate and difficult of all operations. Jacques Barzun is one of the most cultivated exemplars of Western civilization and his book contains the experience and the reflection of a lifetime. He tells us not to judge past centuries by our standards and to recognize that, however different, those centuries have made us what we are.’  Noel Annan

‘Jacques Barzun’s summa is the work of a very great historian and of a seer. The phrase from the Bible in apposite: “The hearing ear, and the seeing eye” is his great gift — and a gift to his readers.’  John Lukacs

‘From Dawn to Decadence is a personal, witty, learned, bold, and above all wise retrospect of the past half-millennium. One will read it through with mounting interest, and then go back again and again to savour favourite parts of it’.  Gertrude Himmelfarb

About the Author:

Jacques Barzun was born in France in 1907 and moved to the US in 1920. After graduating from Columbia University he joined its faculty as Professor of History, becoming Dean of Faculties and Provost. The author of over thirty books he received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president.

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