In my initial post, I may have mentioned that reading Roger Kimball’s review of Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence in the pages of The New Criterion remains a thrilling memory of my student days.
I just took the opportunity to reread Kimball’s review, which provoked me to visit Amazon (for the thirtieth time, no doubt) to click the button that implores publishers to make the book available for Kindle. As Kimball states–no slouch of a writer himself–reading Prof. Barzun’s book is an “exhilarating” experience.
Please do consider purchasing Prof. Barzun’s book, and when you do, make sure to click this same button. It would be a great blow against the Untergang des Abendlandes if this great work of intellectual and cultural history were to be more readily available.
But don’t just take my word for it:
From Dawn to Decadence, Mr. Barzun’s overview of the last five-hundred years of Western cultural history, is a magnificent summa of his concerns as a thinker and historian. It synthesizes as well as summarizes a long lifetime’s reflection about the fate of those distinctive energies that define Western culture: “the great achievements and the sorry failures of our half millennium.” The first thing to be said about From Dawn to Decadence is that reading it is an exhilarating experience. I mention this partly to reassure those intimidated by the book’s length, partly to mollify those put off by its admonitory title. At nearly nine-hundred closely printed pages, From Dawn to Decadence certainly is long, but it is also a rich tapestry of a book—the product, Mr. Barzun remarks, of accidents like “insomnia and longevity,” as well as of immense scholarship. Despite the book’s intimidating girth, I suspect that many readers will, like me, come to feel about it the way one feels about certain long novels. For the first hundred pages or so, a mixture of wariness and anticipation predominates: will the book really repay the time and effort it demands? These feelings give way, as one settles into the story, to eager excitement. Finally, as the end approaches, one finds oneself madly trying to prolong the experience and delay coming to the final page.