From Dawn To Decadence

From Dawn To Decadence - Jacques Barzun It's good for me to read a book that takes me out of my comfort zone by reading a book like this one that mostly talks about the fine arts and written by a curmudgeon. If I had started reading this in the year 2000, I would have stopped, but today I found his obvious retrograde beliefs charmingly anachronistic.

I hate to dwell on the author's obviously curmudgeonly ways since they really aren't the heart of the book. He writes a good survey of fine arts. In the beginning of the book he goes chronologically and thematically, but thankfully he starts to let the time period tell the story. People like me, really need to learn about literature, poetry, music all the things I've avoided my whole life. The author tells the emotional, passionate and intuitive story from the 1500s to 2000. He definitely favors Schopenhauer and his viewpoint on the meaning of art. (I suspect he spent more time on Schopenhauer than he did on Nietzsche).

He's an expert at relating the modern thinkers to the time period he is considering. He really likes William James (as I do), and he relates him to many 16th century thinkers.

The author spent about an hour and a half on Pascal and Louis XIV. I enjoyed the topic of Pascal's posthumous book, Pensee so much, I'll probably end up getting it even though Pascal's Wager is such a pathetic argument in itself.

There's plenty to recommend in this book.

He's not much of a scientist. He gets that part of the story wrong or incomplete. He will disparage 'scientism'. He defines it as the application of science to an area that is not appropriate. By definition, he makes scientism inappropriate when it's used outside of it's normal domain. He makes a big point that evolution by natural selection was worked out by others before Darwin. He said Newton's notation for the calculus is the notation that is currently in use. That's nonsense. These aren't big points with me, but they show me he's not much of a science historian.

He said that "the Kaiser did everything in his power for Austria to avert war", and both sides are to blame for the great war. The Germans gave Austria a 'blank check', and ask a Belgium who started the war. He defends the Germans by saying Britain was planing on invading neutral Belgium anyways. Both sides are to blame. Blah, blah, blah! Read Max Hastings!

I don't know why he said that the rulers who sent Columbus really didn't want to exterminate the native American people. That's a weird statement (probably true, but the Native Americans do get exterminated. Who cares about the good intentions). He tells me the Puritans really weren't puritanical, the Victorians weren't prudes and other such rubbish. Those things don't ruin the book and are just a small part of the book.

He really should not have written the last one hour of the book. He didn't seem to like the fact that in 1999 New York State made it a civil right to breastfeed in public. (See, that's why I call him an anachronism. Nobody today will think twice about women breastfeeding in public). In the beginning of the book he'll say how he'll use man to represent both men and women. He'll tell us that 'actress' will always be used and so on. I don't think he's fully aware that Freud and his psychoanalysis mumbo jumbo had been completely over turned by the year 2000.

Overall, ignore my nitpicking. They aren't the heart of the book, and his fine art heavy story is worth while.

BTW, if any goodreads friend reads this review and would like my audio cd version of this book, just send me an email with your address and a promise to pay the shipping (probably $4), and I'll gladly mail the CDs to you. It was a pain in the ass to upload the CDs to my computer and then convert them to Iphone format, but it was worth it).