Jacques Barzun  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jacques Martin Barzun (November 30, 1907 - October 25, 2012) was a French-born American historian of ideas and culture.


Over seven decades, Barzun has 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, and art, and classical music; he is one of the all-time authorities on Hector Berlioz. Some of his books - particularly Teacher in America and The House of Intellect - enjoyed a substantial lay readership and influenced debate about culture and education far beyond the realm of academic history. Barzun has a strong interest in the tools and mechanics of writing and research. He undertook the task of completing, from a manuscript almost two-thirds of which was in first draft at the author's death, and editing (with the help of six other people), the first edition (published 1966) of Follett's Modern American Usage. Barzun is also the author of books on literary style (Simple and Direct, 1975), on the crafts of editing and publishing (On Writing, Editing, and Publishing, 1971), and on research methods in history and the other humanities (The Modern Researcher, which has seen at least six editions).

Barzun does not disdain popular culture: his varied interests include detective fiction and baseball. He edited and wrote the introduction to the 1961 anthology, The Delights of Detection, which included stories by G. K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, and others. In 1971, Barzun co-authored (with Wendell Hertig Taylor), A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, & Related Genres, for which he and his co-author received a Special Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America the following year. Barzun is a proponent of the theatre critic and diarist James Agate, whom he compared in stature to Pepys. Barzun edited Agate's last two diaries into a new edition in 1951 and wrote an informative introductory essay, "Agate and His Nine Egos".

Jacques Barzun has continued to write on education and cultural history since retiring from Columbia. At 84 years of age, he began writing his swan song, to which he devoted the better part of the 1990s. The resulting book of more than 800 pages, From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, reveals a vast erudition and brilliance undimmed by advanced age. Historians, literary critics, and popular reviewers all lauded From Dawn to Decadence as a sweeping and powerful survey of modern Western history, and it became a New York Times bestseller. The book introduces several novel typographic devices that aid an unusually rich system of cross-referencing and help keep many strands of thought in the book under organized control. Most pages feature a sidebar containing a pithy quotation--usually little known, and often surprising or humorous--from some author or historical figure. In 2007, Barzun commented that "Old age is like learning a new profession. And not one of your own choosing."


  • 1927 Samplings and Chronicles: Being the Continuation of the Philolexian Society History, with Literary Selections From 1912 to 1927 (editor). Philolexian Society.
  • 1932 The French Race: Theories of Its Origins and Their Social and Political Implications. P.S. King & Son.
  • 1937 Race: a Study in Modern Superstition (Revised, 1965 Race: A Study in Superstition). Methuen & Co. Ltd.
  • 1939 Of Human Freedom. Revised edition, Greenwood Press Reprint, 1977: ISBN 0837193214.
  • 1941 Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage. Reprint Barzun Press, 2007: ISBN 978-1406761788.
  • 1943 Romanticism and the Modern Ego. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1943.
  • 1945 Teacher in America. Reprint Liberty Fund, 1981. ISBN 0913966797.
  • 1950 Berlioz and the Romantic Generation. Boston: Little, Brown and Company/An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1950 [2 vols.].
  • 1951 Pleasures of Music: a Reader's Choice of Great Writing About Music and Musicians From Cellini to Bernard Shaw Viking Press.
  • 1954 God's Country and Mine: A Declaration of Love, Spiced with a Few Harsh Words. Reprint Greenwood Press, 1973: ISBN 0837168600.
  • 1956 Music in American Life. Indiana University Press.
  • 1956 The Energies of Art: Studies of Authors, Classic and Modern. Greenwood, ISBN: 0837168562.
  • 1959 The House of Intellect. Reprint Harper Perennial, 2002: ISBN 978-0060102302.
  • 1960 Lincoln the Literary Genius (first published in The Saturday Evening Post, 14 February 1959)
  • 1961 The Delights of Detection. Criterion Books.
  • 1961 Classic, Romantic, and Modern. Reprint University Of Chicago Press, 1975: ISBN 0226038521.
  • 1964 Science: The Glorious Entertainment. HarperCollins. ISBN 0060102403.
  • 1967 What Man Has Built (introductory booklet to the Great Ages of Man book series). Time Inc.
  • 1968 The American University: How It Runs, Where It Is Going. Reprint University Of Chicago Press, 1993: ISBN 0226038459.
  • 1969 Berlioz and the Romantic Century (3d ed.) Reprint: Barzun Press.
  • 1971 On Writing, Editing, and Publishing. University of Chicago Press.
  • 1971 A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader's Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, and Related Genres (with Wendell Hertig Taylor). Revised edition, Harper & Row, 1989: ISBN 0060157968.
  • 1974 Clio and the Doctors. Reprinted University Of Chicago Press, 1993: ISBN 0226038513.
  • 1974 The Use and Abuse of Art (A.W. Mellon Lectures in the Fine Arts) . Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691018049.
  • 1975 Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers. 4th ed, Harper Perennial, 2001: ISBN 0060937238.
  • 1976 The Bibliophile of the Future: His Complaints about the Twentieth Century (Maury A. Bromsen lecture in humanistic bibliography). Boston Public Library. ISBN 0890730482.
  • 1980 Three Talks at Northern Kentucky University. Northern Kentucky University, Dept. of Literature and Language.
  • 1982 Lincoln's Philosophic Vision. Artichokes Creative Studios.
  • 1982 Critical Questions: On Music and Letters, Culture and Biography, 1940-1980 (edited by Bea Friedland). University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226038645.
  • 1982 Berlioz and His Century: An Introduction to the Age of Romanticism (Abridgment of Berlioz and the Romantic Century). University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226038610.
  • 1983 A Stroll with William James. Reprint University of Chicago Press, 2002: ISBN 978-0226038698.
  • 1986 A Word or Two Before You Go: Brief Essays on Language. Wesleyan University.
  • 1989 The Culture We Deserve: A Critique of Disenlightenment. Wesleyan University. ISBN 0819562378.
  • 1991 An Essay on French Verse: For Readers of English Poetry. New Directions Publishing. ISBN 0811211584.
  • 1991 Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226038467.
  • 2000 From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present. ISBN 978-0060928834.
  • 2001 Sidelights on Opera at Glimmerglass. Glimmerglass Opera
  • 2002 A Jacques Barzun Reader. ISBN 978-0060935429.
  • 2002 What is a School? and Trim the College! (What is a School? An Institution in Limbo, Trim the College! A Utopia). Hudson Institute.
  • 2003 The Modern Researcher (6th ed.) (with Henry F. Graff). Wadsworth Publishing. ISBN 978-0495318705.
  • 2004 Four More Sidelights on Opera at Glimmerglass: 2001-2004

See also

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