“It was partly my upbringing, being among a group of artists of every kind,” he told the AP. “When I became interested in history, it seemed that social and cultural elements were perfectly real things that existed as forces. Diplomacy and force of arms were treated as the substance of history, and there was this other realm missing.”
“From Dawn to Decadence,” summing up a lifetime of thinking, offered a rounded, leisurely and conservative tour of Western civilization, with numerous digressions printed in the margins. Barzun guided readers from the religious debates of the Reformation to the contemporary debates on beliefs of any kind.
“Distrust (was) attached to anything that retained a shadow of authoritativeness _ old people, old ideas, old conceptions of what a leader or a teacher might do,” he wrote of the late 20th century.
Barzun told the AP in 2003 that he remembered coming to the United States after World War I and finding a country that lived up to its own happy, informal reputation. “It was openhearted, amiable and courteous in manner, ready to try anything new,” he said. “But many of those things have gone to pieces, for understandable reasons.”
He contributed to such magazines as Harper’s and The New Republic and he published more than 30 books, notably “Teacher in America,” a classic analysis of education and culture. In the early 1950s, he and Trilling helped found the Readers’ Subscription Book Club, a highbrow response to the Book-of-the-Month Club that lasted 12 years.
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.
Barzun had three children with his first wife, Marianna Lowell, who died in 1978. He married Marguerite Davenport two years later. He also is survived by 10 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, according to his daughter, Isabel Barzun.
“He was a gentleman. He was a scholar. He was refined, he was kind. He was enormously generous in spirit,” said Parfit, his son-in-law. “He was one of a kind.”
Associated Press writers Michelle L. Price in Phoenix and Nicole Evatt in New York contributed to this report.