On a Great Human Being

Jacques Barzun’s hundredth birthday is being celebrated enthusiastically by so many people not just because he is a great scholar, writer, and teacher, but because he also is a great human being. I had the honor of serving with Jacques on the Board of Editors of the Encyclopaedia Britannica where I had the privilege of watching him in action with his peers. In our wide-ranging discussions of every topic from astronomy to zoology, his voice was invariably reasoned, informed, principled, and gentle. He never engaged in intellectual one-upsmanship with the other distinguished scholars on the board. Of course, I was the odd man out in that group, clearly the youngest and least qualified. Everyone knew that, but Jacques nonetheless treated me with the same respect he offered those who were more deserving of it than I. Perhaps he thought I was not yet too old to be educated? He was always willing to answer my naive questions about literature and music, and he even sought to help me to become a bit civilized: He taught me how to make a Perfect Martini, and I have been in his debt ever since.

James O’Toole
Research Professor
Marshall School of Business
University of Southern California

The Jacques Barzun Centennial