The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

by Stephen Greenblatt


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One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

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 a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393064476
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 09/26/2011
Pages: 356
Sales rank: 140,418
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, he is the author of nine books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Practicing New Historicism; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World, and Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. He has edited six collections of criticism, is the co-author (with Charles Mee) of a play, Cardenio, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. He honors include the MLA's James Russell Lowell Prize, for Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.


Cambridge, Massachusetts

Date of Birth:

November 7, 1943

Place of Birth:

Cambridge, Massachusetts


B.A., Yale University, 1964; B.A., Cambridge University, 1966; Ph.D., Yale University, 1969

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Swerve 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 108 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished "The Swerve" and must say I am a bit perplexed. In the Preface, the author describes the reasons for his deep emotional attachment to "On the Nature of Things" by Lucretius. My sense is that he let this emotional attachment get the better of him. On page 68 (of the e-book) he states that "On the Nature of Things" is the work of a disciple who is transmitting ideas that had been developed centuries earlier. Epicurus, Lucretia's philosophical messiah, ......". Throughout the book, more reference seems to be made to Epicurus than Lucretius by the people that the author wants to propose as having been influenced by Lucretius. The final statement of the book, as if to emphasize how much the world has been changed by Lucretius is Thomas Jefferson's statement that he is an Epicuran. So this reader is left with the question of why the focus on Lucretius? The answer to me can only be that the author found a good story in the discovery of a copy of the manuscript by a papal secretary, Poggio (and not the only one as seems to be alleged in the beginning - another was later found). And a good story it is, weaving us through the inner working of monasteries, the copying of manuscripts, papal intrigue, "book hunters", and the preservation of "pagan" manuscripts in Europe. What the author failed to do for this reader is convince me that "On the Nature of Things" caused, much less was significant to, the Renaissance. Much is made of the work describing atoms, as was described previously by Leuccippus and Democritus, and that life's ultimate goal is pleasure and the avoidance of pain, Epicurus' central tenet, as being supremely influential in moving the(western)world forward in its thinking, and some of these thoughts, over 2,000 years old are quite remarkable in their prescience, but by no means unique to Lucretius. But if these thoughts were so influential in moving the Renaissance forward did some of the clearly wrong claims in "On the Nature of Things" not hinder its development? This is not addressed. Other critics have complained of its seeming anti-Catholic tone, and as a recovering Catholic, I sympathize with you. But I didn't find anything in the book unfair to the Catholic church of the time. I found the book entertaining and enlightening in many respects, so 4 stars still.
HarryVane More than 1 year ago
This is a great short history about a long lost Roman poem that encompassed the very humanistic ideas that brought Western Europe out of the intellectual morass of Christendom and into the Renaissance and Reformation. I find great comfort reading about the importance of "a book" and the humanities that have shaped so much of our society despite the sad state of the humanities within our education system and the slow sad disappearance of the paper book. The hero of Stephen Greenblatt's work would no doubt be unsettled by the anti-intellectualism prevalent in the modern West and our complete obsession with cheap stimuli. Turn off the TV. Put the cell phone away. Find a nice quiet place to read and enjoy this wonderful book.
jobriant More than 1 year ago
The publisher's blurb calls this a "riveting" account of great cultural change and a "thrilling tale of discovery." While interesting, it was hardly riveting or thrilling. Rather, it was a matter-of-fact and sometimes pedantic account of the rediscovery of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things." The author makes a less than compelling case for one of his own favorite poems changing the course of Western cultural history. I don't think it moved others as much as it did him. An interesting read, but not compelling.
Psocoptera More than 1 year ago
Even if you didn't sleep thru Western History in college this book will inform and entertain. The author weaves a tale of how a relatively unknown Florentine scholar rescues a literary work by Lucretius that inspired many more Renassaince works. Lucretius's poem has amazingly modern ideas but were it not for a random "swerve" of chance it could have been lost forever, and perhaps a seminal spark out of the dark ages. This book will make you laugh and make you think.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An excellent short history of literary tolerance (or intolerance) wrapped within the story of a Fourteenth Century book hunter. Should be a must read so that we avoid banning books because we disagree with its content.
Go4Jugular More than 1 year ago
I started this novel with great reluctance - an obscure book hunter in the 1400s, searching for a poem I'd not heard of by an ancient author whose name I did not recognize. However, I found it to be surprisingly, and enjoyably, readable. The history, politics, and religion of the time are lucidly described. The education and life of the book hunter give a strong sense of his character (and who can dislike a guy named Poggio?). The core themes of the poem are outlined with the correct amount of detail, and the net result is an interesting, entertaining story of how modern secular precepts emerged from the intolerant theocratic European societies of the Middle Ages. One might argue with the primacy the author claims for the role of the poem, but the journey he takes the reader on illustrates how many of our modern social ideals evolved.
leopardiNJ More than 1 year ago
There are been numerous works of historical non-fiction, especially in recent times, that attempt to pinpoint some pivotal event and/or person and attribute to that event or person great significance. These are often fascinating tales as much for the insight they might give us into the course of history as they are often tales of intrigue, mystery, luck and persistence. Stephen Greenblatt's The Serve is one such book and an outstanding example of the genre. It tells the story of one Titus Lucretius Carus, a first-century BC (55 to 99 BC) Roman philosopher and disciple of Epicurus whose single surviving work of poetry, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) languished in obscurity for nearly a millennium and a half, before it was rediscovered and broadcast around Europe in the 15th century by a equally obscure (at least these days) former papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio sat right at the apex of temporal and spiritual power while in Rome, but had been cut loose and out of a job after Pope John XXIII was deposed (the Pope's number was recycled 500 years later). In the spirit of the era, he decided to spend his time north of the Alps hunting for ancient Greek and Roman texts. Poggio was not only very good at library hunting and Latin grammar, his was one of the best hand-writing in Europe during these pre-printing-press times. He was, therefore, well suited to both understand what he found, copy it, and, with his connections among the intelligentsia of the times, distribute it. Poggio came across De Rerum Natura quite by chance in a Benedictine library. He immediately realized the significance of the message that the manuscript contained within its exquisite poetry - not just "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die", but, much more, that the very substance of your soulless being (atoms) will disperse and recombine (swerve) in the future as it has throughout the infinity of time. Lucretius' dangerous and heretical message eventually earned it a prominent place on the Index, but not until copies had become fairly widespread both because of its philosophical message and on account of its outstanding Latin grammar. The book ably justifies its enigmatic title, but not its sub-title. On The Nature of Things was undoubtedly a component in the development of modern chemistry and physics, and its rejection of everything supernatural likely impacted the course of philosophy right up to the present time. But atomic theory and the rest had a wider intellectual base than just this poem which the author fails to explore in depth. Greenblatt's story of the discovery of De Rerum Natura is excellent, but his follow up on the later impact comes across as a breathless afterthought. The Swerve is thoroughly researched with nearly 50 pages of notes, 25-plus page bibliography, index and illustrations. Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had a hard time tearing myself away from The Swerve. While I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative about the discovery and recovery of the lost manuscript, which adroitly provides insight into the intellectual, religious and physical worlds of the late Middle Ages, the best part is the thoughtful and concise exposition of Epicureanism. I suspect this cogent 2500 year old rational humanist philosophy of Metaphysics and Ethics has long been suppressed or misrepresented by various religious establishments, and becoming familiar with it is like inhaling a breath of fresh air.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
To Quench the Intellect, The Swerve Succeeds Written by Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, captures the story of Poggio Bracciolini, an avid book hunter and his chance discovery that influenced the creation of the modern world. He saves the last copy of Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius’s, On the Nature of Things. Within this poem are the ideas that changed human thought and inspired some of the most impactful individuals of the millennial.  Greenblatt follows Poggio’s discovery, tracing its impact throughout history. He makes sure to include context and clarity, making the story easier to understand. I particularly liked the inclusion of the historical background of books beginning with the Roman Empire and Paganism. He illustrates the ancient world stating, “A fate no doubt preferable to being thrown to the lions, laughter in the ancient world nonetheless had very sharp teeth.”  It is a mesmerizing and rich book, maintaining a satisfying combination of history and intrigue. The language is gratifying, “A comparably capacious embrace of beauty and pleasure – an embrace that somehow extends to death as well as life, to dissolution as well as creation…”  In his writing, Greenblatt causes the reader to reconsider the importance of books and to view life with a more philosophical approach. We are reminded of the value of ancient knowledge and preservation of intellect when he says, “through reading literature we can make ghosts speak to us, and we can speak back to them.”  I highly recommend The Swerve to book lovers or historians, who are interested in reading a challenging novel that will recalibrate your thinking and leave you contemplating the war of beliefs.  Greenblatt’s passion is clearly evident; he is an exceptional writer and feels strongly about the importance of these ancient manuscripts.  Even in simple statements such as, “Poems are difficult to silence,” or “I began with the desire to speak with the dead,” he makes an impression. It is enlightening and eye opening. This book will most definitely make you think. 
Slowsailor More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written account of the discovery and influence of an ancient Greek scroll "On the Nature of Things". The astounding part is how its influence spread throughout Renaissance europe, and how the boundaries between thinkers even then were small and porous. Once the idea is introduced, tracing through the intellectual, physical, and spiritual history of western thought truly illustrates a swerve away from superstition toward the modern world.
mahallett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Rating: 5* of fiveThe Book Report: De rerum natura was a long narrative poem expounding Epicurean philosophy that was written in the first century before the common era. I am told by those possessed of sufficient Latin fluency that it is beautiful. I am not possessed of that level of fluency, and to me it seemed agonizingly impenetrable and obscurantist.But author Greenblatt, in this fascinating Pulitzer Prize-winning history and analysis of the poem and its influence on the world, focuses not on the merits of the poem but on the genesis, development, survival, and influence of De rerum natura, arguably the foundation text for the mental construct that you and I share, and that diverges widely from the mental construct of earlier times.Why is this so? Because we accept a material explanation of the existence of things as our prevailing orthodoxy, even in the face of religious challenges to the primacy of logic and evidence and just plain good sense. It's down to Lucretius's poem's astounding clarity of thought, persuasiveness of rhetoric, and miraculous survival and rebirth.What Greenblatt did was to provide a brief history of Epicurus, his actual philosophy, and the cultural currents that distorted and misrepresented his philosophy, together with the whys and wherefores of that misrepresentation. Then Lucretius, a shadowy figure whose biography is unknown to modern readers except for a calumny heaped on his memory by a man who did not know him and in fact lived centuries after his death, wrote in poetry...a form of expression not to Epicurus's taste or, in his opinion, a good and useful tool of communication, he preferring plain and simple and direct prose...broke down the Epicurean vision of the world, and argued in support of it. Greenblatt then traces the survival of manuscripts from antiquity to the Middle Ages, the resurgent interest in their contents during the run-up to the Renaissance, and the incalculably valuable role of obsessive individuals in hunting down, copying, and disseminating the surviving antique texts to a world then, as now, hungry for more and better and different views and experiences and thoughts and ideas.My Review: I give this book one of my rare five-star ratings because it has solved a problem of identity for me: I am, as Thomas Jefferson said before me, an Epicurean. Not the debased view held of that noble philosophy thanks to ¿Saint¿ Jerome, who in the course of ramming his ignorance-celebrating religion down the throats of humanity, hit on the perfect misstatement of Epicurus's actual materialist philosophy: Hedonism! Hedonism and vice and licentiousness and gluttony! The pursuit of pleasure can only mean these things, shouted Jerome, and the chorus of baying dogs was off after the fox.We all know how that ends.Chapter eight of The Swerve, ¿¿The Way Things Are,¿ breaks out the point-by-point reality of Epicureanism, and is the prime motivating factor for my five-star rating. (In fact, I dislike Poggio Bracciolini, the discoverer of De rerum natura, quite intensely, and suspect that had I met him in life, I would have been repulsed by him.) I list here the bullet points Greenblatt is at pains to provide with clear, concise, and satisfying explication:--Everything is made of invisible particles. This is called ¿atomism.¿--The elementary particles of matter...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.--Everything comes into being as a result of a swerve. (Another word for this is collision.)--The swerve is the source of free will. If there is no preordained pattern, how can there be a preordained result?--Nature ceaselessly experiments. Evolution by natural selection, anyone?--The universe was not created for or about humans.--Humans are not unique. We are animals, literally not figuratively, like a
JeffV on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Epicurian philospher/poet Lucretius wrote his "On the Nature of Things" at a time when the world was more open to radical ideas. In essence, Lucretius might be considered a scientific prophet -- he made some accurate suppositions on science and religion that wouldn't be validated for millennium.The Swerve is not, however, an analysis of this ancient work, but the story about it's unlikely discovery during the Renaissance and it's survival in the face of Catholic zealotry. On the Nature of Things is chock full of wonderfully heretical ideas -- ideas that would influence scientists such as Copernicus and Galileo as well as statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson. I suppose this is what Greenblatt refers to with the tag line "How the World Became Modern." This is not a book of cause and effect -- it's a remarkable story about a remarkable piece of ancient literature.
bookfest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
jnwelch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt, is an intellectual romp. It tells the tale of the creation of Roman Lucretius's revolutionary, non-conformist poem On the Nature of Things, its ties to Epicurus and Epicureanism, its loss for centuries and then finding in the 15th century by a fascinating book hunter, its gradual dissemination and then growing influence on artists, writers, philosophers and political leaders, the attempts at suppression, and the curious schizophrenic reaction of the many Christians who loved it as a poem but denounced its content.Greenblatt describes On the Nature of Things as a difficult work and only occasionally directly quotes it, preferring instead to translate its general propositions for the reader. He obviously expects that those interested will track down the poem elsewhere. Here's how it begins:Mother of Rome, delight of Gods and men,Dear Venus that beneath the gliding starsMakest to teem the many-voyaged mainAnd fruitful lands- for all of living thingsThrough thee alone are evermore conceived,Through thee are risen to visit the great sun-Before thee, Goddess, and thy coming on,Flee stormy wind and massy cloud away,For thee the daedal Earth bears scented flowers,For thee waters of the unvexed deepSmile, and the hollows of the serene skyGlow with diffused radiance for thee!Sounds a bit Homeric, doesn't it? And from that you wouldn't guess what it proceeds to divulge, an extensive, clear-eyed, scientific, anti-religious world view remarkable in both scope and detail. The references to Gods and Goddess certainly are surprising, given what we come to understand about the poem. What follows might be a little SPOILERY, but there's so much in this book, I think it will only help you get grounded a bit.In a chapter titled, "The Way Things Are", Greenblatt explains the ideas in Lucretius's poem in a way I can only urge you to read. Some examples: "Everything is made of invisible particles." Going back to Greek ideas, Lucretius sees our universe as being made of tiny, eternal, uniform particles that combine in different forms and eventually dissolve into their original state only to combine again into new forms. Yup, atoms. From this he reaches many dangerous conclusions, including that "The universe was not created for or about humans", and "All organized religions are superstitious delusions." You can see why this would cause a ruckus among devout believers. To boot, "Religions are invariably cruel." Hmm. He of course has some basis to say that, and seems to get some unfortunate vindication after we read about the double-crossing torture and death inflicted by the church's leaders in the 15th century against those espousing contrarian views.So what's it all about for us? "The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain," and "The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain, it is delusion." At times I found myself thinking, this guy is a Buddhist! :-) Substitute in as the highest goal "experiencing the moment and the absence of suffering" and it seems like a pretty darn Eastern view. Lucretius found his foundation in Epicurus's ideas (which turn out not to be what we think they are).Among the many pleasures of this book are following book hunter Poggio, who actually was a deftly successful secretary to several Popes in Rome (his low point comes when his Pope, during a time of multiple Popes, gets dismissed and imprisoned). Among the depressing skulduggery, Poggio's refuge was books, and his greatest enjoyment was traveling to monasteries and discovering ancient manuscripts thought lost forever. In 1417 he finds Lucretius's poem and eventually transcribes it. All copying was by hand back then, and Poggio's script was renowned as a beautiful one. Gradually the poem gets hand-copied by more and more people (including, eventually, Machiavelli!) and its influence spreads. Botticelli, Leonardo DaVinci, Montaigne, Moliere, the list goes on and on. L
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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
wirkman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read a lot of negative reviews of this book prior to buying it. I figured: Typical reactions to a book about Epicureanism and its partial revival upon the Renaissance discovery of Titus Lucretius Carus's masterful didactic poem ON THE NATURE OF THINGS. And I was right. This is a fun book. The author provides a portrait of the age that moderns forget: Just how pain- and death-obsessed Dark Ages Christians were. Horrifying. Every time I read a conservative defense of medieval Christianity, I want to retch. This book is, in part, a good antidote to such nonsense.The author, contrary to many of his critics, does make a case for the book's influence. And it's not a bad case. It was one of the crucial sparks to light the fires of both the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. It had subtle influence. And some not so subtle influences on writers like Michel de Montaigne.This book has a somewhat polemical purpose, as is apt for a book about the Epicurean revival. Epicurus always wrote with a sense of purpose: to extinguish fear from readers' souls. Christian Europe, prior to the Enlightenment, was a horror, and Christianity fed the fires of fear: Fear of "the Lord"; fear of punishment in the afterlife; fear of persecution, torture, and execution. Modernity was a necessary way out of Christianity's horrible death grip on the minds of Europeans, rich and poor, educated and ignorant.Thanks, Poggio of Florence, for finding Lucretius's classic. And thanks to Stephen Greenblatt.
atortorice001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"A romping good piece of intellectual history centered around the rediscovery of Lucretius's 1st century BC poem De rerum natura, or On the Nature of Things. In the 14th century, a high-ranking Vatican official temporarily out of office (new Pope, new offiiclals), begins a search through monasteries in Germany and Poland for classic Latin manuscripts. He finds and copies Lucretius's On the Nature of Things and distributes it to a few of his humanist friends,s starting an extraordinarily subversive three-century process of changing the way we see the world. Notions we take for granted today (that substances are composed of minute, irreducible particles called atoms, were notions people killed and died for. Demonstrates that history is very nonlinear. Highly recommended."
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of intellectual history I love. Greenblatt takes one small event, the discovery of a copy of the poem On the Nature of Things by Lucretius, and uses it to tell how the works of the ancient world were lost, how a handful of humanists rediscovered much of the writings of the classical world, how this impacted the medieval world, helped create the brilliance of the Renaissance, which in turn led to modern science and the Enlightenment. Beautifully written and engaging.
Illiniguy71 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you like lively cultural history and the history of ideas, and if you can tolerate a discussion of religious disbelief, then you should enjoy this well-written book for the general reader.
ReadHanded on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 int
JayLivernois on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If this book does not deserve five stars, I do not know what does. It is also a good history of how libraries came back into the world through Renaissance Italy after their destruction in the ancient world.
EpicTale on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"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.
Schmerguls on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago