Barzun wrote an epic summary of 500 years of western civilization, from
the Renaissance to the first world war.
No question it is very educational and helps one
create a "timeline" of the main events in western civilization, from
politics to art to literature to philosophy.
It is also quite unique in trying to guess what the popular mood was in
I found these main drawbacks though:
- Most of his "history" (up to the 20th century) is about political intrigue. We get an almost
documentary description of the main political events, but little or nothing
about the events that shaped the ordinary mind.
- Each artist, philosopher, poet, etc is described in a brief biography that
tells us about her/his life, but does not quite explain why that person
was so important. At the end of the biography, it is hard to grasp the
innovations brought about by the artist. Even in the case of Shakespeare and
Racine, one is left wondering what was so "new" about their art.