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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Escrito por Stephen Greenblatt

Narrado por Edoardo Ballerini


The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Escrito por Stephen Greenblatt

Narrado por Edoardo Ballerini

notas:
4.5/5 (115 notas)
Duração:
9 horas
Lançados:
23 de set. de 2011
ISBN:
9781461846901
Formato:
Audiolivro

Nota do editor

Life as we know it…

This compulsively readable history reveals how a chance encounter inspired an ancient bookworm to save the last copy of a book considered radical and dangerous — leading to the Renaissance and the world as we know it.

Descrição

Renowned historian Stephen Greenblatt’s works shoot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. With The Swerve, Greenblatt transports listeners to the dawn of the Renaissance and chronicles the life of an intrepid book lover who rescued the Roman philosophical text On the Nature of Things from certain oblivion.

“More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Lançados:
23 de set. de 2011
ISBN:
9781461846901
Formato:
Audiolivro

Sobre o autor

Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. His many books include Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which won a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. He is a general editor of The Norton Shakespeare and The Norton Anthology of English Literature


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Avaliações do leitor

  • (4/5)
    Was hoping for more history of the ideas, less biography of Bracchiolini. The last few chapters really pick up and it's an exciting read to the end. The Partially Examined Life podcast episodes on De Rerum Natura are an excellent companion for brushing up on Lucretius.
  • (5/5)
    An intellectual detective story.
  • (5/5)
    Fascinating true story of the rediscovery of Lucretius's De Rerum Naturae, perhaps the most unknown and most influential poem / treatise that helped launch the Renaissance.
  • (5/5)
    This was a really interesting book about a "book hunter" in 1417 who goes around to various places (like monasteries) seeking old manuscripts that had been lost for centuries. It talks about old books and the risks to their survival, both from storage and from reading, and why so many are gone forever (at least so far...). The main subject is a hunt for On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. I knew a little about the work but had no idea of its effect on what happened in history and science after it was found. It was a Pulitzer Prize winning book and got me looking for other winning books, figuring (somehow this had never occurred to me before) that could be a source of other interesting books. And it was.
  • (5/5)
    Some of the most rewarding passages of this book involve the Greenblatt’s explanation of Epicureanism, as channeled by Lucretius. There is also great material here about the process by which ancient texts were either lost forever or imperfectly preserved. This is a terrific book for anyone interested in the ideas of antiquity, the Renaissance, or the patrimony of modern atheism.
  • (3/5)
    Many scholars of history or art consider the Renaissance to be a relatively short period of time (roughly the 15th and 16th centuries) when educated Europeans experienced a substantial and sudden change (a “swerve”) from a deeply religious weltanschauung to one more secular or scientific. In The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, writes eloquently about Western Europe as it underwent that change of worldview. He begins with describing the (largely religious) preconceptions generally held prior to the swerve. He detours through the history of book collecting, papermaking, medieval libraries, the importance of penmanship before the invention of the movable type printing press, and the sociology of monasteries and the monastic movement. [This may sound dry, but it contains much interesting information, such as the extreme value of writing material and the fact that monastic scribes used a mixture of milk, cheese, and lime as “whiteout” for mistakes.] The central figure of the book is Poggio Bracciolini, a secretary to the first Pope John XXIII. In 1417, Poggio unearthed in a German monastery a copy of “De Rerum Natura” ("On the Nature of Things") by Lucretius, a 7,000-line epic poem which had been lost for more than a thousand years. Lucretius, born in 99 BCE, was not the most original of thinkers, but he wrote in beautiful Latin, and he rearticulated the theory of atomism first posited by Leucippus and Democritus and further developed by Epicurus. As Greenblatt tells it, Poggio’s rediscovery of Lucretius introduced to 15th century Europe the concept of that all things were composed of combinations of eternal, indestructible atoms moving about in the “void.” The Roman Catholic Church at first thought atomism was a dangerous concept because it was thought to contradict (or at least make less tenable) the concept of transubstantiation, which had been so painfully analyzed and articulated by Thomas Aquinas. Borrowing from a distinction made by Aristotle, Aquinas argued that the host consecrated at mass maintained only the “accidents” of bread, while its “substance” underwent a change into the body of Christ. The Church officially adopted Aquinas’s concept at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). But atomism absolutely denied the distinction between “substance” and “accidents,” and thus threatened Aquinas’s intellectual edifice. If the host were merely a specific arrangement of atoms, just how could it be turned into the body of Christ, which had been an entirely different arrangement of different atoms? “De Rerum Natura” also contradicted another seminal church theologian, Augustine of Hippo, whose view of man’s status in the world dominated medieval perceptions. Augustine had emphasized man’s “fallen” nature. He wrote that the road to salvation required men to overcome their natural desires, to refrain from seeking pleasure (especially the sexual kind), and to perform nearly constant penance. On the other hand, Lucretius, picking up from Epicurus, taught that there was no afterlife and that happiness could be obtained only by seeking pleasure. [It should be noted that Epicurus was not a total hedonist or debaucher—his notion of pleasure was a modest (one might say “sensible” or “temperate”) one, something like Aristotle’s search for eudemonia.] Lucretius wrote that humans can and should conquer their fears, accept the fact that they and all things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and pleasure of the world. Greenblatt contends that right about the time Poggio returned to Italy from Germany with his copy of “De Rerum Naturum," Western Europe underwent what Lucretius called a “clinamen” [the word is derived from the Latin clīnāre, to incline] or swerve —an unexpected, unpredictable movement.” He avers:"Something happened in the Renaissance, something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, [and] the claims of the body. The cultural shift is notoriously difficult to define, and its significance has been fiercely contested….[I]t helps to account for the intellectual daring of Copernicus and Vesalius, Giordano Bruno and William Harvey, Hobbes and Spinoza.” Discussion: It should be noted that many experts take issue with Greenblatt’s contentions. They decry his depiction of the Middle Ages (at least after the 12th century) as overwhelmingly dark, ignorant, and superstitious. His portrayal may be vivid and fascinating, but closer to caricature than fact. More critically, Greenblatt’s suggestion that Poggio’s discovery led to the Renaissance is anathema to some thoughtful historians. While Greenblatt makes some modest disclaimers about one poem causing an entire movement, he gives mixed signals in that regard. He writes, for example: "A short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties reached out one day, took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That was all; but it was enough.” And certainly the subtitle of the book, "How the World Became Modern", lays bare his mind set. The publishers’ blurb, for which we probably should not blame Greenblatt, goes even further: "The copying and translation of this ancient book, the greatest discovery of the greatest book hunter of his age, fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein, and had revolutionary influence on writers like Montaigne and Shakespeare, and even Thomas Jefferson.” That encomium clearly jumps the shark. All those great thinkers were influenced by many movements and thinkers besides Lucretius. It could even be argued that Greenblatt saw the impress of others, such as Cicero, and somewhat arbitrarily (or at least unjustifiably in terms of the evidence) attributed them to Lucretius. Many historians, for example, have credited the onset of the Renaissance to the discovery of Cicero’s letters by Petrarch in the 14th Century. Cicero’s writings on Greek philosophical systems not only profoundly affected European ideas in the early Middle Ages, but are said to have inspired Lucretius! In fact, Petrarch is considered by many to be the "father of the Renaissance” by stimulating much of the humanist philosophy that characterized it. The list goes on: in the mid-16th Century, the works of Sextus on skepticism were translated into Latin, and these ideas too were said to have profoundly modified the course of religious thought in the late Renaissance. The point is that many factors went into the gradual efflorescence that characterized the Renaissance and inspired later thinkers. Greenblatt’s reliance on the shoulders of just one giant isn’t warranted. Evaluation: When I first encountered this book, I thought the author had overemphasized the importance of the discovery of “De Rurum Natura,” merely using it as an excuse to write a book about the Renaissance. I still think he overstates his case, but a second reading showed that his thesis was somewhat more nuanced and measured. Greenblatt doesn’t contend that the discovery of Lucretius caused the Renaissance, but he does say, “This particular ancient book, suddenly returning to view, made a difference.” With that, I can agree. The book is well-written and replete with interesting philosophical analyses. If it inspires readers to read more about medieval history and philosophy, so much the better.(JAB)
  • (4/5)
    A excellent book about how a poem by Lucretius re entered the world and the way that poem started changing the world. The cutual battle that exists now beween science, reason, philosophy and religion existed then. at the heart of the battle, is the war for power and weatt. Excellent book
  • (4/5)
    62. The Swerve : How the World Became Modern (Audio) by Stephen Greenblatt, read by Edoardo Ballerini (2011, 9 hrs 42 mins, 368 pages in Paperback, Listened October 17-27)The title of this book bothers me, as does the comment "A riveting tale of the great cultural "swerve" known as the Renaissance."The book is actually about the rediscovery in the 15th century of "On the Nature of Things" by the Roman Epicurean philosopher Lucretius. The "Swerve" refers to one translation of one of the fundamental aspects of the atom-based concepts promoted in the poem. Yes, Lucretius believed in what we today call atoms, or really, elements, or maybe really protons, neutrons and electrons. He also had the basic ideas of natural selection worked out, and what we would consider a more modern view of the cosmos. The "swerve" is a translation of his variety of what we might call atomic level chaos theory.The book is pretty good stuff. It's overly dramatic, but Greenblatt looks closely into the world of books and monasteries in the 15th century and how they got there, at the political world of the Popes, early humanists, and one momentarily out-of-work scholarly humanist, Poggio Bracciolini, who found a copy of Lucretius in a still unknown but likely isolated monastery.Then Greenblatt has to somehow deal with what I would consider several plot obstacles in that Poggio never really did anything with Lucretius, and that almost no authors could directly acknowledge influence of Lucretius since his ideas are so far outside the Christian, and especially Catholic, concepts of the times. So Greenblatt looks for anything he can find on atomic theory and claims it is either a reference to Lucretius or influenced by him. I was sometimes skeptical, and felt Greenblatt way overstated Lucretius's influence on the already underway Renaissance. But still this was enjoyable and worth pondering.Fun stuff and decent on audio.
  • (5/5)
    Here's another rambling biography about a fascinating time in history. Like Shorts' biography of Geologist Saint Nicolas Steno, or Cutler's treatment of Descarte's bones, Stephen Goldblatt is all over the place, and it works. Philosophy, European history, religion, and natural history, -- it's all there. And best of all, the story is wrapped like a scroll of Herculaneum papyrus, around a love of books.
  • (3/5)
    Greenblatt tells the story of the preservation of a philosophical text book by Lucretius, a Roman epicurean. The book was held in the library of a German monastery in the 1300s and was identified by a papal secretary, Poggio. Poggio had copies made, and the text became broadly circulated. Greenblatt makes the point that some of the views put in the text, that life goes on without input from the gods, for example, found fertile ground at the start of the enlightenment, in spite of the obvious objections of the Church hierarchy.Good stuff.Read August 2012.
  • (4/5)
    Coming late to the game with all the hype about this book, I was a bit disappointed with it. Some of it is probably due that I have always hated Lucretius' De rerum natura. Facts are best presented in prose not in rhyme. The life of Poggio Bracciolini serves as the background for a sweeping portrait from antiquity to the renaissance with one digression after the other so that the final pages have to rush to present Bracciolini's actual life and career. There it is revealed that the supposed monumental find of Lucretius' work was actually kept under wraps for many years by one of his acquaintances so that the key thrust of the swerve collapses like a bad soufflé. The main protagonist was but one among many, many humanists whose eagerness of rediscovering antiquity was in part made possible by the economic take-off happening as a consequence of the Black Death. Many of these texts were trophies for the newly rich (like Bill Gates buying Leonardo da Vinci's workbooks).
  • (4/5)
    This fast-moving narrative history focuses on the rediscovery of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, On the Nature of Things, in a monastery library in Germany in 1417. While acknowledging that this single work did not jump start the Renaissance, Greenblatt uses the story to tell a broader tale: how classical learning fell to pieces in Late Antiquity; how it was rediscovered in the Renaissance; and how it provided a vital alternative to centuries of dominance by Catholic and scholastic theology. If you've read about Late Antiquity or the Renaissance, this book won't offer much new depth, but will offer a lively tour of familiar ground. What Lucretius actually says in his book gets just one chapter - the best in the book, I thought, and a spur to read in greater depth about the Epicureans and the ancient and modern legacies.
  • (5/5)
    I thought this book was riveting and eye-opening. It's a must-read if you are at all interested in intellectual history. And well-written, too.
  • (4/5)
    All in all, I'm glad I read this book because I learned a lot about Epicureanism, humanism and book production in the pre-printing press days. It was also an interesting story of the life of Poggio, the book hunter who finds an obscure ancient poem that, argues the author, made a significant contribution to the renaissance.However, despite having over 70 pages of notes and sources, there are no footnotes or mention of sources of information in the text. While this makes for a smoother flow (the book often reads like a novel), it does make the ideas presented sound speculative. I found the flow of ideas sometimes hard to keep track of. Most importantly, the author doesn't really prove his thesis that the featured document played a large role in modernizing the world. I would have liked more of how the work was influential.
  • (4/5)
    The author sets out to demonstrate that the rediscovery of the poem, On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, was responsible for the Enlightenment and the swerve that took us toward modernity. He credits it for much of science, art, and philosophy in the modern period, which is a big claim. The main problem is that he doesn't support that claim very well. He provides an interesting history of the time of the poem, and another history of the time during which it was found, then he goes into mentioning Enlightenment authors who were influenced by the poem. He makes some links, but does not do more than establish that the poem was read and enjoyed, and at times quoted, by these authors. There is nothing in this work to indicate whether the popularity of the poem was cause or effect of the trend toward science and freethinking. Read it for the history, but don't expect to be convinced.
  • (5/5)
    For me, this is a gem of a book. For some, Mr. Greenblatt overstates his thesis, and I think that's absolutely correct. But, even accepting that fact, it did not diminish the read for me. If anything, it inspires me to further study and examination. Ultimately, I do think Lucrectuis' poem played a part (and its questionable how big) in moving forward intellectual and scientific thought.

    There are many things to like about this book. It's part ancient history, part travelouge/book hunt, part scientific study, part religious study/critique. And to top it all off, it is beautifully written and conceived.

    Some of my highlights:

    I was completely engrossed by how books were made, organized, written, copied and maintained by religious monks 600 yrs ago. I found the quotes and descriptions lamenting the slow wasting away of many books by spills, sneezes, dirty hands and parasites fascinating - Mr. Greenblatt generously supplies an entire chapter on this - "The Teeth of Time" (pg 81).

    I found the story of Poggio Bracciolini, the humanist, scribe, book hunter, and personal secretary to several Pope's, interesting and inspiring. He was born of modest means, but through beautiful handwriting and training in notary, rose to be an early humanist, collector of ancient art/books and an intimate part of the Pope's inner circle. He also wrote some scathing satires on the Catholic Church - exposing the hypocrisy and greed that surrounded him.

    I also enjoyed how Mr. Greenblatt devotes an entire chapter breaking down Lucretius' poem, "On The Nature of Things" for the layman - "The Way Things Are" (pg 182). He offers a breakdown of many of its key points in clear logical prose. It helped me, since I am unfamiliar with the work, and it may encourage readers to tackle the original. At the bare minimum, it gives the reader a clear overview.

    The poem, the driving force behind this book, drew much of its inspiration from the Greek philosopher, Epicurus. Mr. Greenblatt does a fine job giving a brief overview and tying the poem into the philosophy of Epicureanism. The clash between this philosophy and Christianity is highlighted many times throughout the book. For some, it may become too iconoclastic. Mr. Greenblatt does seem to be a staunch ally of Epicureanism - The pursuit of pleasure, the soul and body dies at death, and that atoms, continously in motion, swerving in all directions, are the building blocks of all things.

    I enjoyed this book. It's a launching pad for further study for the lay person, and it's a fun read!

    Recommended.
  • (4/5)
    I love books about classic books that are otherwise difficult, a guide is welcome. Despite the subtitle chosen by the publisher, I don't think Greenblatt is saying this one book by Lucretius created the modern world, but he is saying it was influential to some degree and he succeeded in showing that. Lucretius provided a model, atomism, for understanding the physical world that was in the end correct, at least more so than the alternative of faith. Critics say Greenblatt is anti-religious and falls into the trap created by Italian Humanists who depict the "middle" ages (a term they invented) as being "dark" (a concept they created); that these intellectual models were part of a propaganda campaign to restore the glory of Rome, one that lives on in the modern imagination for various reasons. In short, anyone who uses the term or concept of a "Dark Ages" is not a serious historian rather a populist. These are valid criticisms.. and yet. This is still a good book, as a history of On the Nature of Things, of Italian "book hunters" and some Humanists brought back to life.
  • (4/5)
    Stephen Greenblatt's nonfiction book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern is an interesting discussion of the Renaissance, the history of libraries, 15th century papal history, civilization's devolution into the Dark Ages, civilization's emergence from the Dark Ages, and the history of how one philosophical poem, rescued by chance from a German monastery in 1417 fueled the "radical" and "new" ideas swirling through the fiber of the Renaissance.Greenblatt starts his story with Poggio Bracciolini, a book hunter scouring Europe's monasteries for long-forgotten, but culturally and philosophically valuable books. The real story, as Greenblatt goes on to explain, begins further back in time, in the first century BCE when Titus Lucretius Carus composed a lengthy poem expounding on the idea's of his mentor, Epicurus. The poem, called De rerum natura, or On the Nature of Things, is "that rarest of accomplishments: a great work of philosophy that is also a great poem" (pg. 186). Lucretius laid out themes common to today's thinking, shocking and dangerous in Poggio's time, and almost prescient in Lucretius' own day. Some of these ideas are: Everything is made of invisible particles The elementary particles of matter - "the seeds of the things" - are eternal The elementary particles are infinite in number but limited in shape and size All particles are in motion in an infinite void The universe has no creator or designer Nature ceaselessly experiments The universe was not created for or about humans The soul dies There is no afterlife All organized religions are superstitious delusions The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain (pgs 173-185).I'm not saying that I believe that all Lucretius' points are true, but they are common in today's thinking, which I find amazing considering they were written over two thousand years ago. Greenblatt's argument is that the rediscovery of On the Nature of Things in the 15th century became a springboard for many of the artistic, literary, and scientific advances that followed (encompassing the Renaissance).On the way to and throughout that argument, Greenblatt does an excellent job of painting the scenes, thoroughly explaining the philosophical and intellectual landscapes that produced Lucretius, caused his impressive poem to be buried alive for 1400 years, and allowed Poggio to bring that poem to surface once again. I particularly enjoyed the section that discussed Alexandria's famous Museum (including its well-known library) and its downfall at the hands of overzealous Christians. Hypatia, a famous female "scholar-in-residence" at Alexandria, well known for her "attainments in astronomy, music, mathematics, and philosophy" (pg. 85) spoke out against Christian violence against Jews and soon enough was under attack herself. An angry mob branded her a witch and killed her violently: "The murder of Hypatia signified more than the end of one remarkable person; it effectively marked the downfall of Alexandrian intellectual life and was the death knell for the whole intellectual tradition that underlay the text that Poggio recovered so many centuries later. The Museum, with its dream of assembling all texts, all schools, all ideas, was no longer at the protected center of civil society" (pg. 86). Chillingly, the civilized world devolved into the Dark Ages not because of some widespread natural disaster that destroyed libraries and books, but because people simply stopped caring about learning. Unfortunately, the transition sounds all too familiar: "Near the century's end, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus complained that Romans had virtually abandoned serious reading. Ammianus was not lamenting barbarian raids of Christian fanaticism. No doubt these were at work, somewhere in the background of the phenomenon that struck him. But what he observed, as the empire slowly crumbled, was a loss of cultural moorings, a descent into febrile triviality. 'In place of the philosopher the singer is called in, and in place of the orator the teacher of stagecraft, and while the libraries are shut up forever like tombs, water-organs are manufactured and lyres as large as carriages'" (pg. 86-7).
  • (3/5)
    I wanted to like this book as much as Will in the World, which I really enjoyed, but The Swerve just didn't grab my imagination like WITW. All of the church history and Poggio's quest for the manuscript felt like a prelude that ended up comprising most of the story. I wanted more insight into The Nature of Things itself, more discussion of how it influenced Enlightenment and modern thinkers such as Jefferson. I also would have appreciated more of the drama of the rediscovered book's suppression - what Greenblatt write's about The Inquisition is fascinating, but he seeks to skim over it in a fairly cursory fashion.
  • (5/5)
    Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the 2011 National Book Award, Greenblatt follows the life and work of a 15th century scribe who searches for lost ancient manuscripts of Greece and Rome. He saves Lucretius’s poem, ‘On the Nature of Things’ which introduced concepts and ideas the ‘sparked’ the Renaissance and Enlightenment. The book then focuses on the poem and it’s far reaching impact throughout history. Full of surprises.
  • (3/5)
    A collection of very interesting topics (search for books, outpouring of the Renaissance, the foundation of modern Humanism, the poem itself) which somehow does not hold up together.

    The poem itself is fascinating, but there is little reference to it in the Renaissance. It is not the 'tipping point' that Greenblatt describes, but one merely interesting atom of an incident out of many in the storm of the Renaissance.
  • (4/5)
    i listened to this. maybe the reader wasn't great. however it was interesting to hear about all these atheists 600 years ago. i'm sure the 1, 2,3 s are from godists.
  • (4/5)
    Both a tale of adventure and a literary history, this was right up my alley. Greenblatt brought the worlds of early Greece and 15th century Europe to life, revealing the culture and thinking of the age. A word of warning, the details of the church's persecution of free thinkers will make your blood boil.
  • (3/5)
    This book tells of Poggio Bracciolini, who in 1417 found in a German monastery's library Lucretius' book On the Nature of Things--a book which had been unknown for over a thousand years. Greenblatt ascribes a huge influence to the book, which though atheistic and denying basic tenets of Christianity, was admired for its elegant latin. Some of the history related in the book is of much interest, though I cannot accept its reasoning asserting that all is derived from atoms and space and everything evolved by total chance from atoms flitting about..
  • (4/5)
    The search for the classics in the Middle Ages.
  • (3/5)
    For the first time I can remember, reading LibraryThing reviews has affected my opinion of a book. Many of the lower-rated reviews here seemed to confirm my suspicions about "The Swerve," so I'm knocking off half a star. It's not that Stephen Greenblatt's "The Swerve" isn't enjoyable: it is. The writing is fluid and the story that Greenblatt puts together is compelling: it's a page-turner about manuscript hunting. The problem is that I feel he's worked a bit too hard to make Poggio Braccolini a hero for our age, a modern secular humanist avant la lettre. I suppose that people that write history books have to balance their desire to make the past seem familiar with their desire to make the past seem like a strange and exotic place, but I feel that, in accentuating his modern tendencies, the author has probably pushed his comparisons between his subject and the way we think today a bit too far. It's not that Poggio wasn't modern, it's that he may not have been modern in the exact same way that we are. As a non-religious citizen of a 21st century democracy of liberal political sensibilities, I felt that "The Swerve" pandered to me in ways that I can't put my finger on, and that's not really a good thing.There are probably other reasons that "The Swerve" would make academic historians tear their hair out. While it seems that a good deal of Poggio Bracciolini's paper's survive, "The Swerve" is probably a bit too eager to put its reader in his shoes. This sort of close identification, while certainly effective from a narrative standpoint, probably reduces the book's value as a work of serious history. In my opinion, the book's most interesting passages are what other reviewers have described, uncharitably, as detours or distractions. There's a lot in here about paper-making and relic-hunting and papal politics and ancient libraries, which, while it might not have a direct connection to Lucretius's work, is fascinating to read about. It's in these portions of the book where Greenblatt gives his readers some idea of the intellectual lassitude that had taken hold of Europe before the Renaissance: Romans, in many cases, literally lived among the ruins of a more glorious civilization. It's a bit of a shame that the author tried so hard to close the circle by promoting his main character, as I'm tempted to call Poggio, as a perfectly formed citizen of the modern world. Not a bad book, perhaps, and lots of fun, but I'd hesitate to take this one entirely at its word.
  • (5/5)
    "The Swerve" was a terrific book, which seamlessly integrated about 2000 years of European intellectual history, religion, literature, and philosophy from the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance. The book brims with interesting stories, descriptions, and information. In particular I really enjoyed Greenblatt's homage to Poggio, as much for the back story of his life as a rags-to-riches, fast-on-his-feet, free-thinking papal amanuensis as for his determined sleuthing for lost Latin texts. Greenblatt's fascinating stories about Plutarch, the pre-Gutenburg written word, and the ancient Romans' love for literature went so far beyond the relatively narrow focus of my Latin courses in college. (Why the Classics Department didn't offer a course on Lucretius, I can't fathom. I look forward to reading De Rerum Natura -- albeit, at this stage of my life, in the form of an English translation.) In addition, I was riveted by the author's accounts of life in the fast lane of the Vatican -- a corrupt, ego-driven, power-hungry political enterprise if there ever was one. It would take pages to catalog all the interesting facets which this book contains. It's a worthwhile and well-written read, which any interested generalist will savor and should learn lots from.
  • (4/5)
    The Swerve is a complex history explaining how Poggio Bracciolini, a secular man but secretary to the pope, sought out the classics from ancient Rome and Greece, eventually discovering a complete manuscript of Lucretius's book, On the Nature of Things. He explains how this work influenced key individuals and changed the course of history. At times fascinating and at times tedious,there is so much related to the history and politics of the church that were perhaps necessary to the story but not of particular interest.
  • (4/5)
    This is a great book to learn some history in an enjoyable way. We learn about about the time of Lucretius back with Julius Caesar and that gang. We learn a little about the centuries from then up to the Renaissance, when book culture got rather thin. We learn quite a bit about Renaissance times - our hero is Poggio, who recovered the poem of Lucretius but was also secretary to five popes. Then we learn a bit about the spread of atomism and epicureanism, through Bruno and Montaigne to Jefferson.For my taste, this book has too strong a flavor of scientistic triumphialism. It reads like a Dawkins screed. Some years back one of my coffeeshop pals wanted to read some Bruno, thinking that Bruno was a great pioneer of science. Well, if you dig into Bruno, it's not that simple! Greenblatt admits that Epicurus himself was an odd type of epicurean, i.e. not any extreme hedonist but adhering more to the wisdom of moderation.So I think the book is OK on history, but shallow philosophically. And really you can dig deeply into the history of philosophy without digging into the philosophy. There is a much richer tapestry here and Greenblatt is picking his path to make a simple story. Ah, it was in an Oscar Wilde essay, Critic as Artist or something like that.... Wilde discusses Bruno as a satirist and his indebtedness to the Hellenic satirist Lucian. Go read Lucian! It's a total blast! Lucian has some stories about travels to the moon, etc. Remarkably modern! But here is also the revival of the skepticism of Pyrrho and Sextus Empiricus. Yeah we hear more in this book about the horrible tortures by the church as it suppresses any kind of nonconformity. What we get here is too much of a tale of good and evil, the good guys and the bad guys, for my taste! It's too polemical and too shallow. If you don't like depth and mystery, you'll probably like this book! In any case, it's a fun read and covers a lot of fascinating history!
  • (4/5)
    Many Greek and Roman classics are known to modern scholars only from references in other classical works. On the Nature of Things, a scientific poem by Lucretius, was almost one of them. Renaissance scholar Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of Lucretius' poem in a monastery library in the early 15th century. As Poggio's copy began to circulate and more copies spread, Lucretius' poetic explication of the Epicurean philosophy of science shifted the worldview of its new audience. Poggio, a career papal secretary, had opened a Pandora's box that led to a decline in the church's authority in secular matters such as science. Greenblatt's narrative loses some of its momentum when his own focus swerves from Lucretius, his work, and its influence both in his own day and after its rediscovery, to an extended biographical section about Poggio. Greenblatt speculates about details of Poggio's early life in the absence of documentation. Those details don't appear to have much relevance to the history of On the Nature of Things. An author of an earlier generation might have confined such speculations to footnotes.