Books | Barzun’s signature tome

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Jacques Barzun, during teaching days at Columbia University

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.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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