Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jacques Barzun Is Alive and Well and Living in Texas

In a couple of weeks its going to be Jacques Barzun's 102nd birthday. I hope Jacques hangs in there because in this degraded epoch of ours where ill educated oafs like Glenn Beck and Patrick J Buchanan are lauded as sages Barzun is a rare link to an age when a person would be ashamed to pontificate on any subject without having a thorough knowledge of history, the classics and several European languages.
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Born in France, educated in America, Barzun was for many decades the doyen of the Great Books programme at Columbia University. I have read three books by Monsieur B: Simple & Direct - a sensible and practical guide to writing; The Use and Abuse of Art - an essay which does exactly what it says on the tin describing the uses and abuses of art; From Dawn to Decadence - probably the best history of western civilization from 1500 - 2000 that has ever been written. Let me talk a little more about Dawn to Dec. It's basically a long but fast paced cultural history for the general reader. Barzun's prose is effortless, his learning eclectic, his wit playful, clever and acerbic. It's a book that manages to be both deep and wide ranging and most important of all it, is never dull. If you haven't read From Dawn to Decadence I both pity and envy you. I pity because you're undoubtedly lost in a sea of unknowning, but I envy because you've got a real treat to look forward to. (Hmm, doesn't Mr. T. famously say the previous sentence in a more concise way?)
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Anyway, Joyeux Anniversaire, Jacques.