French-born American historian Jacques Barzun is perhaps best known in sports circles as the author of a relatively famous quote about baseball and America:
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball, the rules and realities of the game."
But that quote alone doesn't do justice to Barzun's lofty status among American historians. I've always been partial to Richard Hofstadter among American historians ever since Mr. Hilvert introduced him in American History Seminar at Elder High School back in 1990, but Jacques Barzun is probably the pre-eminent historian of the past 75 years. His is a brilliant and original mind, and he deserves everlasting credit for refusing to get swept up in the intellectual fads of the day.
From A Jacques Barzun Reader, 2002:
History is concrete and complex; everything in it is individual and entangled. Reading it, mulling it over does not weaken concern with the present, but it brings detachment from the immediate and thus cures "the jumps"---seeing every untoward event as menacing, every success or defeat as permanent, every opponent as a monster of error.
A sense of "how things go" in history---how they come and go---also protects against the worst among machines: the bandwagon. To keep from climbing on is harder than ever since that other machine, the media, has been installed. So many projects, attitudes, and "concepts," as they are quaintly called, are launched with all the trappings of true ideas that holding aloof looks like egotism or the sulks; but it is not sulking to stare as the lemmings rush by; it is self-defense.
Tags: Jacques Barzun, Barzun's