Tag Archives: history

From Dawn to Decadence by Jacques Barzun

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the PresentFrom Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished reading this today, but I wish I had stopped about a hundred pages before the end. The first 700 pages have a historian’s distance and breadth and I found the chapters on the 1500s and 1600s especially fascinating. There was a heavy Western European slant, but that’s right in the subtitle and I was expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting was that the history of the years between 1945 and 1995 read like a curmudgeon’s “oh, these kids today” rant with a very narrow focus on the concerns and conflicts in late-20th-century American academia. If the book had ended when Jacques Barzun was a young boy in France listening to the German guns at the beginning of World War I, I would have had no problem giving this book five stars. The last hundred pages not only distract from those early pages, but they put some of the value judgments in those earlier pages in doubt.

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A Soundtrack for Chapter 9

Last month I suggested a soundtrack for Chapter 2. Today, May 6, 2014 is the 77th anniversary of the burning of the Hindenburg over Lakehurst, New Jersey, so here’s a musical suggestion for Chapter 9 of Fire Answers Fire, “Under the Falling Sky,” the section of the novel during which that key event takes place.

This video is a live performance of Steve Reich’s Hindenburg, Act I from Three Tales:

This amateur video of a live performance in Novosibirsk jumps from the screen showing Beryl Korot’s video to the small orchestra to the Russian audience, but it may drive some of you to check out the 2003 CD/DVD version for the clean audio and video of this Hindenburg section of Three Tales as well as Acts II and III, Bikini (the atoll) and Dolly (the cloned sheep).

(Oh, and if you’re reading this on May 6, check out the Coupon tab up above for a special Hindenburg-day $0.99 coupon.)

Happy 450th to William Shakespeare

 “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato”  Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

When I think about Shakespeare’s influence on our lives and literature, I can’t help thinking about Whitehead’s famous quote about Plato. All literature in the English language consists of nothing but footnotes to The Bard. So why isn’t this a bigger deal, that April 23, 2014 is generally accepted to be his 450th birthday?  They may be celebrating with a 20-foot-tall Lady Godiva marionette in Stratford-upon-Avon this weekend, but otherwise I’m not seeing a lot of hype about this momentous anniversary.

I’m adding my own small footnote by taking the title of my novel published this week from these lines spoken by the Chorus before the battle of Agincourt in Henry V.

Now entertain conjecture of a time,
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp, through the foul womb of night,
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fix’d sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of the other’s watch.
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face.
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night’s dull ear; and from the tents
The armorers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation.

Fire Answers Fire will be officially published at all ebook retailers on May 1, 2014, but is already available at AmazoniTunes, and Barnes and Noble for your Kindles, iPads, and Nooks respectively. If you order from Smashwords (in formats for all ebook readers), please click on the pre-publication coupon tab up above for a 50% discount.