Acclaim for Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind


“At once charming, informative, thought-provoking, and even rather edifying, Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind will provide enjoyable and stimulating reading for curious readers and will be enduringly useful for scholars."—James Sloan Allen, author of Worldly Wisdom: Great Books and the Meanings of Life


"Murray plumbs unpublished material, such as letters and diary entries, as well as extensive access to Barzun himself, in crafting this life story. But that story is, as Barzun would wish, firmly rooted in the work."—American Spectator


""Murray's emphasis is primarily on Barzun's thought, the development of which is presented in a panoramic fashion that summarizes key questions, debates, and arguments. . . . The result is an insightful look at an important intellectual figure, and a valuable resource for students of his work."—Booklist


See also Rebecca Bynum, "Jacques Barzun, Wisdom and Grace," in New English Review.


"A solid intellectual biography. . . . Against the loss of standards and our age's myriad confusions, [Barzun] has long stood for an engaged critical intelligence, built on serious reading, skill in writing clear and direct English, and 'a long tradition of thought.' To Barzun it remains, as Murray's book stirringly reminds us, 'a matter of honor to keep up the fight for the cultured, civilized life.' That's one of the few fights that's always worth fighting."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post


“I have known Jacques Barzun for over twenty years and was the editor for From Dawn to Decadence. Yet I learned innumerable details about his life from this invaluable biography. I found Murray’s summaries of Barzun’s thought and the details of his long career as a teacher and administrator to be most sensitive and intuitive. . . . This is a splendid intellectual biography.”—Hugh Van Dusen, Vice President and Executive Editor of HarperCollins

"The book is a glory, capturing the extraordinary man Murray adores and yet treating him and his work objectively and with notable elegance."—Henry F. Graff, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University


“Jacques Barzun once defined a real book as a book one wants to reread. Michael Murray’s Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind is such a book and I greatly relished reading it. Murray has been conversing with Barzun since 1979 and the book contains many quotations from these conversations, and also from Barzun’s books and letters. I am an avid reader of Jacques Barzun, but I learned many things about his life and mind. For instance, Murray recounts one conversation in which Barzun noted that there is a potential harm in knowing too much: ‘It excludes possibilities that might work.’ Unfashionable, yes, but true. Indeed, in a letter to Donald J. Lloyd, a linguist, Barzun wrote that even salvation we owe to the amateurs: ‘Every subject-matter surely belongs to everyone who exhibits an interest in it. Each is greater than any one gang of professionals, and history shows that salvation has repeatedly come from the dauntless amateur who kept his eyes open while the initiates were sleepily chanting their old formulas.’ Murray’s biography, in sum, offers a wonderful view of Barzun’s mind—and in pleasurable prose.”—Isaac Waisberg, Stanford University


"Michael Murray’s comprehensive biography of Jacques Barzun will—depending on one’s previous acquaintance with the critic-historian—unveil many or a great many facets of Barzun’s life and character. . . . The liberal quotations from Barzun’s writings and talk show the truth of Murray’s own independent drawing of his subject. Whoever wants to know the mind and heart of Barzun had better read Murray. It will be a delightful experience.”—Leo Wong, publisher of Barzun Centennial website