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73+ Works 8,924 Members 76 Reviews 23 Favorited

About the Author

Jacques Barzun was born in Créteil, France on November 30, 1907. He came to the United States in 1920 and graduated magna cum laude from Columbia University in 1927. Following graduation, he joined Columbia's faculty as an instructor while continuing his studies in graduate school there, receiving show more a master's degree in 1928 and a doctorate in French history in 1932. He became a full professor in 1945, was dean of graduate faculties from 1955 to 1958, and dean of faculties from 1958 to 1967. He retired from Columbia University in 1975. He was a historian and cultural critic. The core of his work was the importance of studying history to understand the present and a fundamental respect for intellect. Although he wrote on subjects as diverse as detective fiction and baseball, he was especially known for his many books on music, nineteenth-century romanticism and education. His works include Darwin, Marx and Wagner: Critique of a Heritage; Romanticism and the Modern Ego; The House of Intellect; Race: A Study in Superstition; Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers; A Stroll with William James; The Culture We Deserve; and From Dawn to Decadence. He died on October 25, 2012 at the age of 104. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: "With Light from a New Dawn", painting by Eric Robert Morse, 2005, depicting Jacques Barzun in profile at around the age of 40

Works by Jacques Barzun

Modern American Usage: A Guide (1966) — Editor — 478 copies, 1 review
The House of Intellect (Perennial Classics) (1959) 455 copies, 2 reviews
Simple & Direct (1975) 454 copies, 5 reviews
Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (1941) 315 copies, 3 reviews
Teacher in America (1945) 245 copies, 3 reviews
The Modern Researcher [5th ed.] (1992) 205 copies, 4 reviews
Classic, Romantic, and Modern (1943) 180 copies, 1 review
A Stroll with William James (1983) 160 copies, 1 review
The Use and Abuse of Art (1974) 143 copies, 2 reviews
A Catalogue of Crime (1971) 129 copies, 4 reviews
The Modern Researcher [3rd ed.] (1977) 104 copies, 1 review
Science: The Glorious Entertainment (1964) 63 copies, 1 review
Berlioz and the romantic century (1950) 48 copies, 1 review
The Selected Writings of John Jay Chapman (1957) — Editor — 23 copies
The Delights of Detection (1961) 22 copies
Music in American life (1956) 21 copies
Of human freedom (1977) 11 copies
Karl Den Tolfte (1965) 4 copies
Classic stories of crime and detection (1976) — Editor — 4 copies

Associated Works

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) — Introduction, some editions — 10,175 copies, 325 reviews
Germinal (1885) — Introduction, some editions — 5,414 copies, 78 reviews
The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) — Foreword, some editions — 5,269 copies, 36 reviews
Bouvard and Pécuchet (1881) — Translator, some editions — 1,223 copies, 18 reviews
Dictionary of Received Ideas (1913) — Translation, introduction, and notes, some editions; Translator — 533 copies, 4 reviews
For the Love of Books: 115 Celebrated Writers on the Books They Love Most (1999) — Contributor — 456 copies, 3 reviews
Baseball: A Literary Anthology (2002) — Contributor — 339 copies, 4 reviews
The Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present (1956) — Contributor — 332 copies
The Historian as Detective: Essays on Evidence (1968) — Contributor — 274 copies, 2 reviews
The Best American Essays 2002 (2002) — Contributor — 223 copies, 1 review
Rameau's Nephew, and Other Works (1769) — Translator, some editions — 221 copies
The Game Is Afoot: Parodies, Pastiches, and Ponderings of Sherlock Holmes (1994) — Contributor — 199 copies, 2 reviews
The Best American Essays 1990 (1990) — Contributor — 119 copies
Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History (1954) — Preface — 114 copies
Evenings with the Orchestra (1852) — Translator, some editions — 102 copies, 2 reviews
Les Nuits de Paris (1788) — Introduction, some editions — 89 copies
Meta-Politics: The Roots of the Nazi Mind (1941) — Contributor, some editions — 59 copies
Great Baseball Stories (1979) — Contributor — 47 copies
A Quarto of Modern Literature (1935) — Contributor — 40 copies
Partisan Review: The 50th Anniversary Edition (1905) — Contributor — 32 copies, 1 review
The Academic Marketplace (1958) — Foreword, some editions — 31 copies
A linguistics reader (1900) — Contributor — 21 copies
The Selected Letters of Lord Byron (1953) — Editor — 18 copies
The Clerihews of Paul Horgan (1984) — Introduction — 15 copies
Phaedra and Figaro: Racine's Phèdre (1961) — Translator, some editions; Translator, some editions; Translator, some editions — 13 copies, 1 review
Books in Our Future: Prospectives and Proposals (1987) — Contributor — 6 copies
The Later Ego 5 copies


19th century (96) 20th century (182) Agatha Christie (233) anthology (165) baseball (156) British (124) classics (96) crime (305) crime fiction (147) cultural history (135) culture (229) detective (224) education (164) England (145) essays (384) European History (127) fiction (1,000) French (101) French literature (161) Hercule Poirot (325) historiography (129) history (1,268) intellectual history (116) literature (210) murder (130) music (135) mystery (1,546) non-fiction (766) novel (170) philosophy (774) Poirot (262) psychology (502) read (168) reference (237) religion (827) research (113) to-read (932) unread (120) Western Civilization (100) writing (255)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Barzun, Jacques
Legal name
Barzun, Jacques Martin
Date of death
France (birth)
USA (naturalized 1933)
Créteil, France
Place of death
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Places of residence
Créteil, France
Paris, France
New York, New York, USA
San Antonio, Texas, USA
Grenoble, France
Columbia University (BA | 1927 | valedictorian | MA | 1928 | PhD | 1932)
cultural critic
Lowell, Mariana (wife)
Davenport, Marguerite Lee (wife)
Columbia University
Philolexian Society (president)
Charles Scribner's Sons
Awards and honors
Presidential Medal of Freedom (2003)
Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Legion d'Honneur
National Humanities Medal (2010)
Gold Medal, American Academy of Arts and Letters
American Philosophical Society (1984)
American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature, 1952) (show all 12)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1954)
Edgar Award (1972)
St. Louis Literary Award (1968)
Melville Cane Poetry Award (1993)
Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement (2011)
Académie Delphinale
Short biography
Jacques Barzun was born in France in 1907. He grew up in Paris and, at twelve years old, was sent by his father to the United States to receive an American university education. In 1923 he entered Columbia College and graduated four years later at the top of his class, having been a prize-winning president of the prestigious Philolexian Society. He went on to lecture at Columbia, where he earned his Ph.D in 1932, became a full professor in 1945, and later became Dean of the Graduate School, Dean of Faculties, and Provost. In 1967 he resigned from his administrative duties to focus on teaching and writing until his retirement in 1975. Over seven decades, Barzun had written and edited more than forty books touching on an unusually broad range of subjects, including science and medicine; psychiatry from Robert Burton through William James to modern methods; art; and classical music - he was one of the all-time authorities on Hector Berlioz. After a period of poor health, he was advised that he had several years of life ahead, and this encouraged him to complete his last and largest book, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (2000), which became an unexpected bestseller and critically acclaimed success. Dr. Barzun was widely known in America and in Europe as a trenchant critic of modern trends in education, music and the arts, and he is also a specialist in musical history. Among his many commendations, he had been featured on the cover of Time magazine (1956); he was awarded the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, to which society he was elected in 1952 and twice served as its president; and he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003 and he was awarded the 2010 National Humanities Medal by President Obama. Jacques Barzun died October 25, 2012, at the age of 104 in San Antonio, Texas.



Daniel Boorstin and Jacques Barzun in Ancient History (April 2011)


This book filled in much of what I think I missed from not studying liberal arts. It's a lot to take in, but very worthwhile.
bballard74 | 37 other reviews | Feb 29, 2024 |
A fairly comprehensive look at the cultural history of the modern era. However his predictions for the future do not take into account the problems of ecological change, resource depletion or environmental degradation.
ritaer | 37 other reviews | Jan 14, 2024 |
This book is a long read on the cultural history of the west, requiring nearly as much time to think about what the author says as to read it. It is one of the most insightful and thought-provoking books I've ever read. I had post-it flags throughout marking passages whose ideas I wanted to discuss with my husband. It is not a book I could read with distractions or when tired, and so it took me a while to finish, what with all the kids and all the work making me almost always distracted, tired, or both. After finishing, I'm actually a little sad to part from Jacques Barzun and his sharp mind and sharp tongue. Despite my long to-read list and the length and density of this book and the challenge of finding the time and mental energy for it, I fully expect to return to it, to reread parts or the whole, when I want to spend some time sitting around with a great mind with no patience for muddled thinking and intellectual laziness.… (more)
1 vote
z-bunch | 37 other reviews | Apr 14, 2023 |
To get the four stars you have to ignore the last 200 pages or so. His politics ,his cultural bias and his economics all stop the book cold and is kinda disappointing.
soraxtm | 37 other reviews | Apr 9, 2023 |



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