I’ve just finished listening to “Dawn to Decadence” – an audiobook of Jacques Barzun’s magnum opus. With reservations, I would recommend it.

The best parts of the book come at the start. Mr Barzun clearly has a comprehensive knowledge and deep understanding for a broad range of European culture, from Charlemagne to Goethe and beyond. The detail and anecdotes set out in that section are full of fascinating people and stories I’d never heard.

My reservations surround the last part of the book. Mr Barzun, in turning to what he sees as modern ‘decadence’, is much less convincing. I am very Whiggish in my beliefs, but Mr Barzun’s last few chapters have a strongly Blimpish or Burkeian air, detailing time after time the way in which some modern innovation (including the welfare state and human rights) is facile, futile, and wrong. The mostly unspoken subtext is that the old ways were the better, or an echo of Kingsley Amis’s comment on university expansion – “more will mean worse”.

Individually, Mr Barzun’s opinions are not necessarily wrong, and the use of ‘decadence’ in the title is perhaps warning enough. But the absence of any positive elements of the modern world, and the relentless tabulation of present evils, makes the final section of the book too much of a Jeremiad for my taste.