We confess that our 877-page copy of Jacques Barzun‘s From Dawn to Decadence: Five Hundred Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present (HarperCollins, 2000) has remained uncracked since the overly optimistic day that we acquired it. Of those 500 years of cultural life, Barzun has experienced 100 of them. The native of France who now lives in San Antonio celebrates his centennial on Nov 30. His innovation is to conceive of history as cultural history and includes sport, in brief, in his heavyweight treatment.
“[O]fficial history ignores soccer,” Eduardo Galeano has written, but Barzun does not respond completely, judging by the sports snippets in his cultural tome. He alludes to the reuniting influence of France’s victory in the 1998 World Cup (p. 794), but that is the only mention of football, as far as we can tell. Pride of cultural placement goes to the Olympics and to essayist Montaigne, who, as part of education, suggests “exercise, martial arts, games, riding—and dancing” (p. 138).
Happy birthday, Jacques.