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Friday, October 26, 2012

Jacques Barzun Dead: Pioneering Cultural Historian And Author Dies At 104

“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams”

Jacques Barzun, a pioneering cultural historian, reigning public intellectual and longtime Ivy League professor who became a best-selling author in his 90s with the acclaimed “From Dawn to Decadence,” has died. He was 104.

Barzun, who taught for nearly 50 years at Columbia University, passed away Thursday evening in San Antonio, where he had lived in recent years, his son-in-law Gavin Parfit said.

Praised by Cynthia Ozick as among “the last of the thoroughgoing generalists,” the tall, courtly Barzun wrote dozens of books and essays on everything from philosophy and music to baseball and detective novels.

...Barzun also edited many books, including a compilation of short detective stories, and wrote a memorable essay on baseball, in which he advised that “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.” Those words eventually made it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for which Barzun later autographed a bat celebrating his 100th birthday.


Repoz Posted: October 26, 2012 at 05:21 AM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: obit

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   1. AndrewJ Posted: October 26, 2012 at 07:36 AM (#4283986)
Geez, over the last 12 months we've lost Christopher Hitchens, Gore Vidal, Robert Hughes and now Jacques Barzun. Not mention Eugene Genovese, Alexander Cockburn, Nora Ephron, David Rakoff, Hilton Kramer and Ray Bradbury.

Barzun was interviewed during the 1994-95 strike, and confessed he no longer followed baseball.

The Chicago Cubs did win the World Series when he was 11 months old.
   2. Dag Nabbit at Posted: October 26, 2012 at 08:43 AM (#4284001)
And Eric Hobsbaw.
   3. asinwreck Posted: October 26, 2012 at 09:13 AM (#4284016)
Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner died within 24 hours of each other, each at the age of 95.

Hard to overstate Barzun's influence on the field of history.
   4. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: October 26, 2012 at 10:09 AM (#4284053)
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game and do it by watching first some high-school or small-town teams”

Sorry, but that's one of the most misquoted sentences of all time. What Barzun really said was

"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn professional wrestling, the spectacle, the marketing, and the reality of the sport.

"Rules? They're irrelevant."
   5. Gazizza, my Dilznoofuses! Posted: October 26, 2012 at 10:12 AM (#4284057)
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

That's why I know his name. It's been bugging me.
   6. Morty Causa Posted: October 26, 2012 at 10:41 AM (#4284095)
I wonder if he ever stopped reading mystery-detection fiction. Barzun and co-author Wendell Hertig Taylor wrote a unique book:

A Catalogue of Crime

I wonder if he got to read Bill James's book on crime. Given his age and physical decline, probably not. It would also be interesting to know if James in his formative years read the section in A Catalogue of Crime on true crime cases and studies.

He's one of the few eminent authors that I wrote to (in the pre-internet era). I once read a lot of mystery-detection and wrote to tell how much I like his book, how invaluable it was in my reading. I also chastised him for the treatment of John Dickson Carr in the book.

I was surprised when he wrote back, dated February 3, 1983:

Thank you for your kind note. You'll be glad to know that A Catalogue of Crime is being brought up to date right now--upwards of 1500 new titles and additional information about authors and works already included in the first edition.

Alas for John Dickson Carr--he doesn't look to us as he does to you!

Granted, he took the opportunity to promote the new revised edition of the work, but he aslo obviously had read my missive.

   7. Rough Carrigan Posted: October 26, 2012 at 11:00 AM (#4284131)
Sadly, it would be hard to argue against the notion that one gets a better idea of the heart and mind of America today by understanding football. Empire and fascism are better understood from the gridiron than a park.

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