Jacques Barzun, a pioneering cultural historian, reigning public intellectual and longtime Ivy League professor who became a best-selling author in his 90s with the acclaimed "From Dawn to Decadence," has died. He was 104.
Barzun, who taught for nearly 50 years at Columbia University, died Thursday in San Antonio, where he had lived in recent years, his son-in-law Gavin Parfit said.
Praised by writer Cynthia Ozick as among "the last of the thoroughgoing generalists," Barzun wrote dozens of books and essays on everything from philosophy and music to baseball and detective novels.
In 2000, he capped his career with "From Dawn to Decadence," a survey of Western civilization from the Renaissance to the end of the 20th century. The length topped 800 pages, and the theme was uninspiring -- the collapse of traditions in modern times -- yet it received wide acclaim from reviewers, stayed on best-seller lists for months and was nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle prize.
"The whole thing is a surprise, because scholarship is not exactly the thing people run after these days, or perhaps at any time," Barzun said in 2000.
The French immigrant was a prominent thinker during the Cold War era, making occasional television appearances and even appearing in 1956 on the cover of Time magazine, which cited him as representing "a growing host of men of ideas who not only have the respect of the nation, but who return the compliment."
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, according to his daughter, Isabel Barzun.