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From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the… (2000)

by Jacques Barzun

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,154302,914 (4.12)61
"A stunning five-century study of civilization's cultural retreat."  -- William Safire, New York Times Highly regarded here and abroad for some thirty works of cultural history and criticism, master historian Jacques Barzun has set down in one continuous narrative the sum of his discoveries and conclusions about the whole of Western culture since 1500. Barzun describes what Western Man wrought from the Renaissance 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 been forgotten or obscured. His compelling chapters--such as "Puritans as Democrats," "The Monarchs' Revolution," and "The Artist Prophet and Jester"--show the recurrent role of great themes throughout the era.   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 normal close of great periods and a necessary condition of 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.… (more)

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English (29)  Italian (1)  All languages (30)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
An extremely thorough book full of intelligent ideas, most of which - I'm sad to say - were beyond the reach of my IQ. In fits and starts I had to claw my way through this read with only bursts of understanding in the way of a fantastic quote or enlightening passage to keep me moving on. I would still recommend it, Jacques Barzun is brilliant, however one must have great powers of concentration to be able to digest such an undertaking as this. ( )
  knp4597 | Mar 19, 2018 |
FIRST SENTENCE : “The Modern Era begins, characteristically, with a revolution. It is commonly called the Protestant Reformation, but the train of events starting early in the 16C and ending—if indeed it has ended—more than a century later has all the features of a revolution.”

REVIEW : Barzun, in his master opus, attempts to organize the Western cultural history of the last 500 years, chiefly around principles like Emancipation, Self-Determination, Primitivism. He has insights but expects a lot from the reader. The more you know, the more Barzun will help you organize your existing knowledge. He provides a narrative, not a detailed account. Writing style a bit peculiar, a zest of obsession for Operas.

QUOTES : “During the writing of this book I was frequently asked by friends and colleagues how long its preparation had taken. I could only answer: a lifetime.”
“The book, like the bicycle, is a perfect form.”

RATING : ★★★☆☆ Very Good
Read in January 2018, Nouméa. ( )
  Goblin_Investor | Jan 6, 2018 |
500 years of culture. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
Incredible recounting of the past 500 years of Western history. As I listened to this, I kept thinking to myself "The more things change..."

The 3 stars mostly relates to the quality of the audio recording. Worst I've ever had. Like having C3PO read it - but worse. ( )
1 vote Scarchin | Nov 12, 2013 |
  daleriva | May 9, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jacques Barzunprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cuéllar, JesúsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rodríguez Halffter, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us  Individuals show the way, set the patterns.  The rivalry of the patterns is the history of the world. - William James (1908)
To All Whom It May Concern
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The Modern Era begins, characteristically, with a revolution.
How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event - tidal wave from a ripple - is cause for endless astonishment. . . . ardent youths full of hope as they catch the drift of the idea, rowdies looking for fun, and characters with a grudge. Cranks and tolerated lunatics come out of houses, criminals out of hideouts, and all assert themselves.
The "findings" [of scientism] have inspired policies affecting daily life that were enforced with the same absolute assurance as earlier ones based on religion.
This opposition to freedom of thought must, according to that very thought, be tolerated, thus creating a general lack of direction that a dictator will supply.
Providence, like predestination, lifts the burden of responsibility from the individual, as does their equivalent today: scientific and psychological determinism eliminates responsibility for bahavior, crime included.
What the journalists of every type see as their proper task is to form, with the help of rumor and current prejudice, what is called public opinion.
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