Historian and "cultural gadfly"* Jacques Barzun has died, at age 104.**
I just suggested his book From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present (which was published when he was 92) to someone, but felt like a bit of a poser because, although I own it, I've never read it. I've read it in bits but what I'd love to do is sit right down and read it through. Sigh. Someday, when I have world enough and time.
My sister also swears by his title Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers,*** which is considerably shorter than Dawn to Decadence's 877 pages, and is a guide (of sorts) to better writing style. I should look into reading the entirety of that one too (clearly, as my writing could use some help).
*What a great epitaph. Who wouldn't want to be described as a "cultural gadfly"?
**I find his obituary somewhat unilluminating on the personal side. If he is survived by a wife and several children and grandchildren, why are none of them his executor? These are always the types of questions that bug me in obituaries, and they're never answered. Note: After I read the New York Times obit, it was later corrected to say Arthur Krystal was his friend and editor, not his executor. This makes more sense, although I still think this obit gave his personal life short shrift.
***This is becoming one messy post. Here's my own correction: my sister (and my own personal fact-checker, clearly) tells me the book she swears by is actually Barzun's title Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning. Let's just split the difference and say I'd like to read all of Mr. Barzun's books, and hopefully someday will have the time to do so.