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The New Criterion

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Jacques Barzun, 1907–2012

by Brian P. Kelly

Posted: Oct 26, 2012 04:27 PM

Jacques Barzun, 1907–2012


The New Criterion mourns the passing of Jacues Marin Barzun, historian, essayist, and intellectual.

Born in a suburb of Paris, Barzun studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and moved to the US at a young age. He attened Columbia and graduated as valedictorian in 1927, teaching his first course at the school that same summer. He stayed at the university until he retired in 1975.

Barzun was an expert in too many fields to name, publishing prolifically across topics ranging from baseball to medicine to art. In doing so, he was ardent in his populism, saying that it was “a responsibility of scholars” to write accessibly. He began work on his magnum opus when he was eighty-four. This tome, which surveyed 500 years of Western culture and argued that Western civilization was had started to decline, would become From Dawn to Decadence and would only be published when Barzun was ninety-two.

The New Criterion is proud to have covered the impressive legacy of Jacques Barzun in the past. As we remember an impressive intellectual force, we encourage our readers to learn more about Barzun by enjoying the articles below:

 Jacques Barzun at 100 by Jeffrey Hart—A look back at the Barzun's life during his 100th birthday.

• Barzun on the West by Roger Kimball—On the decline of western culture and From Dawn to Decadence.

• Love letter to a language by William Jay Smith—A review of Barzun's An Essay on French Verse.

• Is life worth living? by Roger Kimball—A review of Barzun's A Stroll with William James.


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In the Aeneid, the Roman poet Virgil sang of "arms and a man" (Arma virumque cano). Month in and month out, The New Criterion expounds with great clarity and wit on the art, culture, and political controversies of our times. With postings of reviews, essays, links, recs, and news, Armavirumque seeks to continue this mission in accordance with the timetable of the digital age.


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