Cultural Historian Jacques Barzun Dies At 104
Jacques Barzun, one of the most influential historians, educators and thinkers of the 20th century, died Thursday, just one month shy of his 105th birthday. Barzun seemed to have a limitless capacity to understand and translate complex ideas — about the evolution of Western culture, what it means to be free, and even the value of American baseball. He shared his observations in numerous books and magazine articles and at Columbia University, where he held forth for half a century.
In an interview 12 years ago on All Things Considered, Barzun said he believed history is driven by emancipation. "It is getting rid of whatever constraint at the moment seems intolerable," he said, "that of class, government — and now it seems to be against clothing."
If that smacks of a kind of intellectual get-off-my-lawn-ism, well, Barzun was a thinker of uncompromisingly high standards and some degree of sarcasm. He was born in Paris, the son of a diplomat. French universities had been decimated by World War I, so he attended Columbia in New York. Barzun taught there the summer after graduating and helped design its Great Books program; he later lamented that his approach was disappearing from universities....
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