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To leaf through Barzun's sweeping, densely detailed but lightly written survey of the last 500 years is to ride a whirlwind of world-changing events. Barzun ponders, for instance, the tumultuous political climate of Renaissance Italy, which yielded mayhem and chaos, but also the work of Michelangelo and Leonardo--and, he adds, the scientific foundations for today's consumer culture of boom boxes and rollerblades. He considers the 16th-century varieties of religious experimentation that arose in the wake of Martin Luther's 95 theses, some of which led to the repression of individual personality, others of which might easily have come from the "Me Decade." Along the way, he offers a miniature history of the detective novel, defends Surrealism from its detractors, and derides the rise of professional sports, packing in a wealth of learned and often barbed asides.
Never shy of controversy, Barzun writes from a generally conservative position; he insists on the importance of moral values, celebrates the historical contributions of Christopher Columbus, and twits the academic practitioners of political correctness. Whether accepting of those views or not, even the most casual reader will find much that is new or little-explored in this attractive venture into cultural history. --Gregory McNamee
Very dense reading with interesting cultural and historical research. Perfect for our class, but very trying in terms of wading through a lot of minutia. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Chris Beardsley
Essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in, or curiosity about, the cultural history of Western civilization. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Louis Torres
An extraordinary comprehensive history of Western Civilization from the breaking out of the European cocoon to approximately the day before yesterday. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Laurence Goldstein
Let's be honest, anyone who picks up this book does so for the decadence, because they know there was something tremendously valuable in "Western Civ" that has been lost in... Read morePublished 6 months ago by JP