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WHO was Jacques Barzun? If you knew him at all, it was probably through a quote that appeared on your TV screen during a World Series game, the same one that adorns a plaque in Cooperstown:
"Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball."
Mr. Barzun knew baseball, the heart and mind of his adopted country, and a whole lot more. He was a leading intellectual with a yen to make the great ideas of Western civilization accessible to the average citizen, a philosopher of teaching, a historian and essayist, a believer in order who despised Hitler, an egalitarian who rejected Marx, and a proud romantic.
In the early 1900s Mr. Barzun, born in Creteil, France, did not while away his boyhood in the usual manner. His parents' house was a magnet for writers, poets, artists, composers, critics, and all sorts of fellows and femmes of avant-garde disposition. "I had the conviction," he later said, "that everybody in he world was an artist except plumbers or people who delivered groceries."
At about 13 he joined his father, a diplomat, in the United States, and just before his 16th birthday he enrolled in Columbia. He took to it, staying to teach, earn a Ph.D., serve as dean, and design a "great books" seminar. Along the way he published influential works such as "Race: A Study in Modern Superstition," "Romanticism and the Modern Ego," and "The American University: How It Runs, Where It Is Going." His interests also ran to areas where eggheads seldom trod, like diamonds and crime scenes.
For example, in a 1953 essay called "On Baseball," Mr. Barzun wrote: "The wonderful purging of the passions that we all experienced in the fall of '51, the despair groaned out over the fate of the Dodgers, from whom the league pennant was snatched at the last minute, give us some idea what a Greek tragedy is like." About another passion, detective fiction, he noted, "The danger that may really threaten [crime fiction] is that soon there will be more writers than readers."
Mr. Barzun died the other day at 104. He lived a rich life, and left riches for others in his life's work.