In From Dawn to Decadence, Barzun traces the periods of rise and fall in the last 500 years of Western history, highlighting great, recurring themes, and intertwining war and government narratives with those of art, science, and literature. He predicts another imminent fall, triggered by uncapped decadence and a widespread entitlement, but he cushions the blow within the context of the many earlier declines and subsequent ascensions.
The book, at a whopping 912 pages, received widespread critical acclaim and remained on best-sellers lists for months. This was a mighty feat for such an immense, chiefly scholarly book, but it serves as a testament to Barzun’s abilities as a remarkably engaging and lucid writer–even Keith Richards admitted to reading it! His writing is filled with wit and energy, and his voice, though conservative in some areas, is certainly progressive in others (the work, published when he was 92, firmly establishes the booming 16th century as shaped by women).
From Dawn to Decadence is still widely read in college classrooms today. Just this spring, professors from Stonehill College, Rice University, Oakland University (among others) adopted it into their curriculum. He will be missed.
You can read his NYTimes obituary here.