Denis Diderot was a French philosopher and critic during the Age of Enlightenment. Born in 1713 in Langres, France, Diderot was educated at the University of Paris. From 1745 to 1772 he served as editor of L'Encyclopedie, which he fashioned as a journal of radical revolutionary opinion. He was a leader in the movement to challenge both church and state by furthering knowledge. Diderot also wrote several critical and philosophical works including Pensees sur l'interpretation de la nature (Thoughts on the Interpretation of Nature, 1754). In addition, he published essays based on personal experience, as well as several plays. He is recognized now as an art critic of the first rank. His Essai sur la peinture (Essay on Painting, 1796) won him posthumous praise as a critic of painting technique and aesthetics. He died in Paris in 1784.
Jacques Barzun, a historian and cultural critic, is one of the most prolific and wide-ranging American writers of the twentieth century. Barzun was born in Greteil, France, in 1907. He came to the United States in 1920, entered Columbia University in 1923, and graduated magna cum laude in 1927. He joined Columbia's faculty in 1929 as an instructor while continuing his studies in graduate school there, earning a doctorate in French history in 1932. Barzin was been associated with Columbia University for more than forty years. He became a full professor in 1945, was dean of graduate faculties from 1955 to 1958, dean of faculties from 1958 to 1967, and one of the sponsors of the university's two-year Western Civilization course, featuring the great books of Western literature. He retired from Columbia University in 1975, but has continued to write extensively. The core of Barzun's work, which he has intended for both a general and an academic audience, is the importance of studying history to understand the present and a fundamental respect for intellect. Although he has written on subjects as diverse as detective fiction and baseball, he is especially known for his many books on music, nineteenth-century romanticism and education. His works include Darwin, Marx and Wagner: Critique of a Heritage (1941), Romanticism and the Modern Ego (1943); The House of Intellect (1956), Race: A Study in Superstition (1965), Simple and Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers (1976) A Stroll with William James (1983), and The Culture We Deserve (1989). All feature Barzun's broad scholarship, careful thinking, and clear, witty style.