Customer Reviews


205 Reviews
5 star:
 (128)
4 star:
 (36)
3 star:
 (18)
2 star:
 (11)
1 star:
 (12)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


239 of 246 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth a second opinion
I wasn't sure what to think while I was reading. But, I couldn't put this down. While reading, I thought Barzun crammed tightly so many ideas, events, details, and biographies that he verged on stimulus overload. Later, when remembering names or events that I encountered when watching TV or reading, I realized how much of the book is retainable.
Barzun is a...
Published on June 1, 2000

versus
51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Immense Disappointment
I'm an avid Jacques Barzun fan. I've read more than half-a-dozen of his well-written, incisive, and provocative books with great pleasure, and go out of my was to capture his frequent appraisals of culture today. I expected no less from this massive tome. After all, this is supposed to be a cultural and intellectual history of the past five-hundred years of Western...
Published on September 10, 2005 by D. S. Heersink


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

239 of 246 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth a second opinion, June 1, 2000
By A Customer
I wasn't sure what to think while I was reading. But, I couldn't put this down. While reading, I thought Barzun crammed tightly so many ideas, events, details, and biographies that he verged on stimulus overload. Later, when remembering names or events that I encountered when watching TV or reading, I realized how much of the book is retainable.
Barzun is a famous stylist. Given how much I admire his writing, I was at first disappointed in the prose. This is not to say that it's written poorly. Only that I think Barzun was more concerned with imparting information in a straightforward way. Nevertheless, certain passages still sing.
I was also at first put off by the many biographies interspersed throughout the narrative. But, then again, after awhile I looked forward to them. They not only add information about famous persons, but color.
Barzun believes certain ideas-individualism, primitivism, self-consciousness, etc-are singularly Western. He uses all capital letters to denote these ideas each time they appear in the narrative. At first, these bothered me because I thought they were trite. But, again, I realized that Barzun was attempting to remind readers of the consistency of Western thought. He demonstrates that so many modern or even post-modern theories, which claim to be avant-guard and even anti-Western, really have deep cultural roots in the very things they revile.
This book is a challenge to those finding it fashionable to denounce Western Civilization. As Barzun says: "[T]he West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere." We are rightly proud of them.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


182 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 800 pages which move as quickly as 200, June 14, 2000
By 
David E. Levine (Peekskill , NY USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Although my first love is reading about American history, an understanding of all the main events of Western Society since the discovery of America provided a very valuable read for me. For example, by understanding the Protestant Reformation better, religious movements in colonial America are put into better perspective. When I open a book of 800 or so pages, my first thought is "Oh Lord, how am I going to plow through this?" However, this book is so enthralling that it moves as quickly as a short novel. I find the type of writing in this book to be absolutely captivating.. the writing I refer to is that which has a point of view but is not the product of an idealogue. The author states an intelligent point of view, throughout, certainly one which can be disagreed with, but certainly reasonable and thoughtful. Barzun is like the great historian Paul Johnson in that he is able to weave biographical information of key historical figures as well as in depth coverage of culture, religion, economics, philosophy etc. Additionally, this is a history of real people, not just a survey of wars and great men/women. In this respect, the book is like Johnson's "The Birth of the Modern," and "History of the American People." Finally, I must point out that although a review stated that his viewpoint is generally conservative, he makes numerous points which would find agreement among leftists. True he defends Western culture and is wary of political correctness. However, he is not an obssessed idealogue and, as for example in his discussion of religious development, he offers observations which might offend traditionalists. Although he may, in fact, be generally conservative, I don't think his views are easily subject to labels. If you are interested in world events, this survey of the last half millenium is 5 stars plus! And, if you are interested in America, the development of world events in a time period coinciding with the development of the New World is a must. I highly recommend this book for all history lovers.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


159 of 165 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read..., June 13, 2000
Barzun is 94 years old and has written more than thirty books. His career as a historian has been an amazing one, and this book gives evidence of his vast experience. The time period covered (500 years) is certainly a broad one. But it is a magnificently rich one to study. I bought the book because I was interested in reading about Renaissance and Baroque art and wanted to get a broader sense of historical context. I got that and much more... politics, philosophy, religion, and more are discussed with reference to one another and with an amazing sense of cohesion.
Barzun speaks with a truly historical perspective. He never fails to be thorough, insightful, probing, and penetrating in his analysis. His lucidity and clarity are amazing; as I said his vast experience as a historian is evident. He is always impartial, rendering a truly helpful take on whatever he adresses. His approaches are always fresh - he dispels common misconceptions and gives the reader a more accurate historical perspective. His sense of focus is remarkable. The book is 800 pages long, but it never loses a sense of the big picture it is painting. Barzun names a few common themes of change in the last 5 centuries and they become threads which reappear constantly in his narrative. None of his thoughtful observations go without context and relation to his overarching argument. The impact of events becomes clear through Barzun's careful analysis.
His writing style is most enjoyable. He is quite casual without lacking anything in specificity. His prose is always engaging - it makes this massive work of cultural history a joy to read. Barzun's quickness to get to the heart of the matter and the ease with which he resolves historical questions are amazing and sometimes bring a smile to my face. His wit is a welcome addition to such an easy-to-read style. His sense of humor is subtle but piercing, accompanying perfectly his lucidity of thought.
This book will not fail to please you, whatever historical interests you may have. It is so far-reaching (while still amazingly focused) that there is something here for everyone. Critical praise has been heaped on this book - it is, to me, one of the greatest and yet most approachable works of history to come along in a while.
Most highly recommended...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


309 of 334 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating journey through the past 500 years, May 23, 2000
By 
Robert Oliver "Rob" (Salt Lake City, Utah) - See all my reviews
This book begins with the Protestant Reformation in 1517, and continues to the present day. Many times histories can be very dry and difficult to read, but this 877 page book covers 500 years of Western Cultural Life in a very readable manner. The focus is on all the facets of Western culture through the centuries. This book is about 500 years of art, politics, religion, writing, philosophy, science, morals, and manners. One of the things that makes the book so interesting is that not only are historical and cultural revolutions covered, but the part that people had in important events and their effects on real people are described. The importance of individual people is greatly stressed in the book. This book shows that we all have many connections with the past. The events of each century have effected what happened in the following centuries, and in our lives today. Jacques Barzun describes our current age as being decadent; but that sense of decadence is really the end of one age and a new beginning for the future. That new beginning can see another flowering of Western culture. This book is the work of a lifetime, and I always had that awareness while reading it. There is a vast richness in the depth and range of this book that any review can only briefly describe. Reading this book is like looking back through the footprints of time, and seeing many of the places that we came from. Then there is also a vision of the path that may lay before us in the future. I recommend this excellent book to everyone.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


149 of 160 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining while instructive, May 22, 2000
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I do not know how Jacques Barzun did it. He takes us through five hundred years of Western cultural history, lards the book with the most esoteric and complex information, and yet somehow manages to make this book a breathless "page-turner." His sure-footed erudition grounds him so securely that he can make forays into the outré, the weird, the seemingly trivial, and then come back to relate it to a baseline of solid historical narrative. One sees connections never noticed, or even imagined, before. One learns of important figures who somehow have avoided the glare of modern scrutiny. I had the feeling I was in the presence of the best college professor I could ever hope to have, and was never intimidated; I just didn't want to miss the next class. [Maybe that's because I knew there was no final exam!]
One appreciates Barzun's decidedly conservative notion that old values matter. He gives political correctness a clop in the chops. He defends some currently dismissed figures like Columbus. And even though he is not terribly sanguine about current cultural trends, he is basically optimistic about the future.
Oh, to have Professor Barzun and me sitting on the two ends of a log, talking, talking. Wait: that's what we have here. Lucky me. Lucky us.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental, April 16, 2001
By A Customer
First a few words of caution: in my opinion, it is NOT a good book if you're looking for a general introduction to the European history from 1500 to the present. It does help a lot if the reader is familiar with the general course of events, without that, I am afraid, it would be pretty unreadable -- Barzun does not concentrate on "what happened", rather than "why it came to pass", and "how was it important", describing relations rather than events themselves. As such, "From Dawn to Decadence" shouldn't be read *instead* of other history books, it should be read to complement them, to put things into different perspective.
That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Barzun's way of shedding light on things that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. One doesn't necessarily have to always agree with author's line of reasoning, nor with his opinions held, but it certainly was a very interesting journey through those 500 years for me.
Also, I found the author's way of pointing to further references extremely useful -- if something catches your interest you can go on and leave no stones unturned, while, at the same time, if something is of only casual interest to you, there is no need to wade through every tiny detail.
To those denouncing the book as dry, flawed, incomplete and unreadable, I'd like to quote a classic line from Oliver Cromwell's letter to the elders of the Scottish Presbyterian Church (which I personally didn't know of before): "I beseech you, by the bowels of Christ, to consider that you may be mistaken".
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


116 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Origins of the Contemporary World, July 31, 2000
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)   
Let me begin by quoting from Jacques Barzun. He sees the book as " . . . a chance to describe . . . some aspects of present decadence that may have escaped notice and and show how they relate to others generally acknowledged." The forms of decadence that he identifies in comtemporary society include excess use of television, public images of a sexual and immoral nature, a decline in traditional religion and an upsurge in various sects, a decline in the nation state, a decline in support for the nation state, the rise of professional sports operated in an undistinguished way morally, and a general withdrawal from traditional forms of education and high culture. I mention this upfront because you may feel differently about the meaning of these same trends.
At the end of the book, he writes from the perspective of the year 2300 about what happens in the next 300 years. This is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. He predicts that boredom will eventually drive people back into being interested in the traditional intellectual, social, and artistic paths of western civilization. At one level, he may well be right because the current technological revolution will rapidly reduce the amount of employment required for every day goods and services. Until more interesting ones are developed, a surfeit of cheap goods, services and entertainment may quickly become boring -- particularly if they are primarily consumed in a passive way.
Barzun also tell us who his audience is: ". . . this book is for people who like to read about art and thought, manners, morals, and religion, and the social setting in which these activities have been and are taking place." He also has assumed tht readers " . . . prefer discourse to be selective and critical . . . ."
His hypothesis is a defense of western civilization. "I hope to show . . . that the peoples of the West offered the world a set of ideas and institutions not found earlier or elsewhere."
This is an unusually long book, but the nature of the subject requires it. Certainly, I saw no place where the book provided too much or extraneous detail. To help the reader, the book is delightfully broken down into smaller units. The first is from 1500 to 1660 (the key issue was what to believe in religion), the second from 1661-1789 (the status of the individual and the mode of government predominate as topics), the third from 1790-1920 (government as a means to provide social and economic equality as the central issues), and the fourth from 1921 to the present (a mixture of all these past issues). Then, within each section, there are a series of essays that look at the primary religious, artistic, scientific, social, governmental, and thought developments. To tie all of these essays together, he uses concepts that he feels are continuing themes over the 500 years. To help these stand out, he CAPITALIZES them. Some of the major themes include PRIMITIVISM, EMANCIPATION, INDIVIDUALISM, SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS, ANALYSIS, REDUCTIVISM, SECULARISM and ABSTRACTION. To give the reader a firm place to stand, he includes several essays that are centered on a place and time to give a better sense of what it was like to live then. These are usually chosen to be near where the dominant themes were playing most strongly (Madrid in 1540, Venice in 1650, London in 1715, Weimar in 1790, Paris in 1830, and Chicago in 1880).
What is good about this perspective is that it puts many things in context. You see the design in the mosaic as well as the design in the individual tile. Barzun adds to this by masterfully explaining why things happened differently than expected. For example, Luther in 1517, the French aristocrats in 1789, and the Russian nobles in 1917 did not intend to start revolutions. Luther tacking his theses was the equivalent of publishing an article today. What made it different was that the printing press allowed these ideas to spread.
Barzun adds another perspective that is useful: the intellectual spread of ideas and concepts. When thinking about the past, most of us focus on the greatest individual contributors. But in doing so, we may miss people who added a key element that allowed others to accomplish more in the future. I was impressed by how many essayists, artists, musicians, and philosphers he cited whose names were totally unfamiliar to me. Yet, I was enriched by understanding their contributions from reading this book. This gave me a new sense of how to think about history. I should confess that I was a modern French history major in college, so I should know more of these people than most will.
I do not agree with Barzun on all of his points, and he would be surprised if you or I did. For example, I think he vastly underestimates the impact of economic, technological, and financial forces on these five centuries. Looking forward, I think he is even more blind to them. For example, the rise of the Internet will allow us all to be in contact. But what should we rely on each other for? You may be a great soccer player, but not so good at algebra. If I ask you to help me do some financial planning, you may inadvertently harm me even though you are a well-meaning, moral person. This question of when to trust will be critical to further development of civilization. If you would like to read another perspective on these centuries that favors the factors that Barzun underrepresents, you may find The Sovereign Individual helpful.
I also don't think he makes his case for the superiority of western civilization over other cultures in the last 500 years. That would really require a different kind of book than this one is. This one focuses on Europe and North America. I suspect that he should have set a slightly less ambitious goal.
So, what's it all add up to? You cannot help but gain by reading this book. You will better understand the arguments for and against all of our current issues. You will locate artists and writers whom you will enjoy. You will have a great deal more fun on your next trip to Europe, visiting all of the places he talks about. You will also develop your own perspective on what the last 500 years means for now and in the future. For example, I was astonished to realize how much worse the 20th century was in many ways than earlier centuries, even though I was aware of the relevant details. Our social idealism is declining at an enormous rate compared to our scientific and commercial progress. All of these things are a lot to get from one book. I suspect we will not see its equal in our lives.
By the way, I suggest that you take this book in bite-sized pieces, unless you cannot stop yourself from going faster. The ideas will be easier to appreciate and connect, if you just read one essay at a time.
Overcome your misconception, disbelief, procrastination, independence, wishful thinking, and tradition stalls by becoming a better thinker about these issues. Enjoy!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


318 of 350 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A History of the Past for the Present and the Future, May 15, 2000
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a marvelously entertaining and eye-opening "unpartisan review" of man's (men, women, teenagers) cultural achievements in the last 500 years in the West. Barzun shows us a vision of the past that is coherent, comprehensive, undulating, and various. His "poised-pen" portraits and felicitous quoting make recognizable dozens of thinkers and artists whose past acts give shape to what we think and feel today. His tips for further reading are a great reminder that, unlike science and techne, good history is never obsolete.

Although Barzun considers the present a time of decadence, this, his greatest work, will give many of us heart as we create (humanly speaking) the unknown future.

Reading the book again in 2010, I like it even more than when I first read it. The book covers a lot of ground at different levels. It is "mountainous" as the author said of one of his favorites, Montaigne. To help readers over the terrain, I have constructed an expanded table of contents of the book: [...]. Enjoy the book.

May 9, 2011: Readers who enjoyed "From Dawn to Decadence," which the author said took "a lifetime to prepare," will also enjoy Michael Murray's account of that lifetime: Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Intellectual Tour de Force, June 19, 2000
By 
Stephen M. Kerwick (Wichita, KS United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This is obviously a rather long book, as one of the other reviewers noted. Still, it packs more information and reflection into its pages than any other work I can recall. One of the nicest attributes is that one can pick it up at any time or place and read 10 or 20 pages with real profit. It is an education for all ages and levels of schooling and reveals many of the treasures that were lost with the demise of Western Civ courses. Prof. Barzun does something only a few writers accomplish: he makes the great minds of our tradition (and he probably qualifies for this group as well) seem like friends and acquaintances (sometimes not good ones). This is a book that makes the reader a better and more accomplished person for the effort...
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


60 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Close to incomparable, July 26, 2000
Just to briefly note that Jacques Barzun's new book seems to have been completed in the middle 1990s, when he was in his late 80s! When published earlier this year, after some review period (and getting some good help at putting in a quite accurate and complete index, people and subjects), Mr. Barzun had moved towards his middle 90s.
Nevertheless, any reader will be hard put to find a more fully educated and civilized view of "western culture" since the Renaissance written for the good old educated layman. Mr. Barzun seems to have made a very conscious effort, however, in quite a few spots, to show us how very fully educated he is: giving us a few paragraphs or pages here and there on a large number of men and women probably unknown to most "educated laymen" who made big and often vast contributions to the West over the years.
Also note that he clearly went out of his way to show that in many periods in the last 500 years women were readily admitted to the various culture clubs. That is to say that they were fully recognized for their talents, their knowledge, their minds. It was quite a good thing for me, and I think a good thing for all of us to see that the peculiar attitudes towards women we've seen during many of the years from Victorian times up to the present do not represent women's lot in history. It is at the very least interesting to think about how it came about that in relatively recent years, women have in many ways lost ground and are looking for "the rooms of their own" many of them had in the past.
Be forewarned that Mr. Barzun's book is not a textbook nor is it a very ordered review of the last 500 or so years. It is rather one summing up (Mr. Barzun's biggest summing, I believe) of what he, one of the most knowing scholars and critics around today, has concluded about roughly what happened from there to here, and then to now.
He makes a very good case for the decadence in his title. He is generally very fair and just with people and events, but, note again, please, that you will read his opinions, not a "balanced" "coverage" of "the period" <S>
The book is well worth reading. His opinions are usually wonderful.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 221 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present
$23.99 $14.91
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.