Jacques Barzun:
"From Dawn To Decadence"

(Copyright © 2000 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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 each age.

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.