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A Jacques Barzun Reader: Selections from His Works (Perennial Classics) Paperback – July 8, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

H Beginning with Barzun's fearless argument for the centrality of race in Western consciousness in his 1937 essay "Race: Fact or Fiction?," and concluding with several selections from 2000's epic bestseller, From Dawn to Decadence, this is a staggering tribute to uber-critic Barzun's legendary intelligence and cantankerousness. Literature is a prime topic: his essays on Swift, Diderot and Shaw brilliantly revitalize well-worn subjects, while "How the Romantics Invented Shakespeare" intriguingly probes the historiography of the Bard's ever-changing reputation. Barzun's own occupation is another dominant concern; Barzun asks, is criticism art or craft?, coming down, conclusively, on the side of craft. Other topics include opera, politics, baseball and Paris in the 1830s. What truly impresses here is Barzun's breadth of knowledge in an age of academic specialization, he is a rare, confident master-of-all-trades. Barzun is also unafraid of being silly, as in a brief aside on the "puncreas," a gland that, when inflamed, causes people to "puncreate" uncontrollably. Of course, readers may not agree with all Barzun's conclusions: he can be exasperatingly arbitrary (detective novels are great but spy novels are not); he can also seem foggily behind the times (as with his fierce defense of "man" as a gender-neutral term). But, taken as a whole, these more than six dozen essays constitute one of the great critical collections of recent times and amply showcase one of the outstanding scholarly intellects of the last century. (Jan.)Forecast: From Dawn to Decadence may have created a new audience for Barzun, though this, a collection of previously published material, will probably get less media attention. Still, this should be a steady, long-term seller.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Cultural critic Barzun has in his tenth decade maintained his ability to write best-sellers, most recently, From Dawn to Decadence (2000). His ability to express his erudition without condescension, which may account for his prolonged popularity, runs through this retrospective drawn from his huge archive of compositions. Rhetorical clarity animates each of the several dozen selections, for Barzun practices what he has preached for a lifetime: writing concretely, rather than abstractly; writing to convince, not to overwhelm. Still another clue to Barzun's connectedness with an audience resides in his expositions on critics of the past, especially exponents of romanticism such as William Hazlitt. Without the suffocation of academic argot, Barzun notes, Hazlitt's essays on Shakespeare's characters, for example, gave pleasure with illumination. And that trait shines through Barzun's anthology, which covers a range of artists, writers, and subjects: composer Hector Berlioz, forgotten political commentator Walter Bagehot, one Thomas Beddoes, M.D., and more, all of which consistently provokes and delights. A positive addition to the Barzun books every library stocks. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (July 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060935421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060935429
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,095,936 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on October 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Like too many others, my journey to becoming a Barzun addict was a slow, steady build. Yes, it was through first reading 'From Dawn to Decadence' that I came to admire his electrifying prose and sparkling wit. And his books on culture and gosh, man!
So there I was in the neighborhood bookstore and I see a brand spankin' new Barzun reader. Since I read in tangents, the format seemed a bit scattered but I bought it, knowing that I would always, no matter what tangent I was on, find something of interest in this volume.
I couldn't have been more right!! I've had the book for, maybe, nine months now and I'm STILL finding, savoring and rereading these excerpts. So many topics covered- from baseball to Berlioz, crime-fiction to higher education, race to romanticism. These days, whenever someone writes about so many subjects, there's always a suspicion that we, the readers, will find ourselves slighted- how can one person actually EXCEL in so many areas and still retain quality and grace. Barzun is a stunning example of someone who can and if you're anything like me (not reading all the way through, but reading each exerpt as it strikes your fancy), this book will rank on your 'most rewarding purchases' list
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Michael Murray, editor of "A Jacques Barzun Reader," has compiled a beautifully varied collection of the great cultural historian's essays -- many of which even we hardcore Barzun admirers have never read & never thought we'd have the chance to read. For example, Barzun's provocative distinction between the "craft" of criticism & art in literature is a seldom-seen essay, & shed light on an aspect of Barzun's thinking that was unknown to me.
Is the book too small? I don't know -- perhaps any such compilation of Barzun's extraordinary & humane writing would be too small, too exclusive. These essays are (presumably) Murray's choices, & I have no quarrel with them per se. But where are other long-treasured & fascinating Barzun essays, such as "James the Melodramatist" or a thoughtful (& negative) critique he wrote decades ago on Eric Partridge's "Usage & Abusage"?
I begin to see that, in fact, a complete collection of Barzun's written work -- all seven or eight decades of it -- is called for. It would, of course, require numerous volumes. "A Jacques Barzun Reader" is an excellent start. I am happy to learn from the dust jacket that Michael Murray is writing a biography on Barzun.
A minor cavil with Murray's method: He chose not to footnote or otherwise indicate his alterations to Barzun's original text for a fairly sensible reason. However, I found myself wondering just which passages or what information was omitted from the reprint of various essays in the book.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Leo R. Wong on January 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book may serve as an ancilla to Barzun's masterpiece From Dawn to Decadence, as a calmative for those upset by what they take to be Barzun's adverse criticism of subjects dear to them, and as a portable treasury of Barzun's writings - some of them never before published or hard to obtain. The first and third of these uses will be apparent to anyone who glances at the table of contents or samples some of the essays. The second use might be hinted at by quoting Barzun's comments on Complaint and Criticism from the selection "Science and Scientism," which Michael Murray's helpful bibliography tells us is taken from Barzun's 1964 book Science: The Glorious Entertainment:

"Criticism as I understand it differs entirely from attack or complaint. Its difference from complaint is especially important here, for I am persuaded that complaints against the machinations of culture today have become as poisonous as the things complained of. This is not surprising. Resentment and indignation are feelings dangerous to the possessor and to be sparingly used. They give comfort too cheaply; they rot judgment, and by encouraging passivity they come to require that evil continue for the sake of the grievance to be enjoyed.

"Criticism, on the contrary, aims at action. True, not all objects can be acted on at once, and many will not be reshaped according to desire; but thought is plastic and within our control, and thought is a form of action. To come to see, in the light of criticism, a situation as different from what it seemed to be, is to have accomplished an important act."

A Jacques Barzun Reader is a book for readers of Barzun, would-be readers of Barzun, and readers who have never liked Barzun.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Todd Vance on January 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Barzun is one of the best thinkers of our time. It is great to have his thoughts on so many subjects assembled in this collection.
It is especially valuable since some of Barzun's most famous commentaries (for example, on baseball) are now out of print and hard to find. Buy this book, you will profit from having it on your bookshelf!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By delft_tile on April 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
The breadth of subject matter, and the consistent intelligence with which it's handled, is just dizzying. You might not agree with a given position that Barzun stakes out in his galaxies of subjects, but he's always interesting, humane, thoughtful, and informed. Plus he's a lucid, vigorous, coherent writer of English prose -- you could use this book just as a style manual in learning to be a better writer!

Ideal for young people and students, who will find here a vast treasure-trove of necessary cultural reference. (So now you know who Berlioz was!) A place to begin building your humanities education, and your intellectual character, as it seems many of our colleges are no longer up to the task. It's one of those books that'll make you a better person. No fooling.
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