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Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind Hardcover – November 10, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Michael Murray compiled, edited, and introduced A Jacques Barzun Reader (2002), and is the author of Marcel Dupre: The Work of a Master Organist (1985), Albert Schweitzer, Musician (1994), and French Masters of the Organ (1998). He teaches a graduate course in library research and bibliography at Ohio State University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Frederic C. Beil; First edition (November 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1929490410
  • ISBN-13: 978-1929490417
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,445,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Murray compiled, edited, and introduced A JACQUES BARZUN READER (HarperCollins, 2002), and is the author of MARCEL DUPRE: THE WORK OF A MASTER ORGANIST (Northeastern University Press, 1985), ALBERT SCHWEITZER, MUSICIAN (Ashgate Publishing, 1994; Kindle edition, 2011), and FRENCH MASTERS OF THE ORGAN (Yale University Press, 1998). He teaches a graduate course in library research and bibliography at Ohio State University.

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Format: Hardcover
This is a serviceable, perhaps even a well-done biography. Murray's prose is transparent, and his narration is well-paced and -organized. Certain passages or even chapters do descend into summarization and quotation of Barzun's works, but this seems acceptable given that Barzun's importance lies in his writing. His other achievements, as teacher and administrator, are noteworthy, the moreso to the extent that they influenced his thought, but probably would not independently merit a full-length study.

Murray identifies what, for me at least, is the "problem" of taking Barzun's life and achievement as a whole. At the start, Murray recognizes that "it may seem odd that [Barzun] never achieved a vogue," best-selling books notwithstanding, but "usually authors who achieve a vogue stand for some single startling view" (p. xxiv). And what, exactly, does Barzun stand for? A very superficial reading, based principally on From Dawn to Decadence, would cast Barzun as yet another prophet of Western decline, which irks the young and the progressive and pleases the fogeyish and the conservative.

Murray's bio shows how very inadequate such a reading is, though it treats extensively of Barzun's engagement with the idea of decline or decadence. Insofar as Barzun judges the West to have spent its force culturally, he has reached the conclusion inductively, through long reading and absorption of European culture of the past several hundred years and through active engagement with attempts in his own century to advance it (Barzun, for instance, fought a resistant administration to get an electronic music center established at Columbia University in the 1950s (pp. 170-71)).
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Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind
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