Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by…

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

by Stephen Greenblatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,540754,777 (3.94)157

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 157 mentions

English (73)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  All languages (75)
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
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. ( )
1 vote bezoar44 | Mar 14, 2015 |
No. Put the book down and back away slowly. Greenblatt’s take on late antiquity, medieval thought, the Renaissance, and early modern science is simplistic and superficial.

Here’s a delicious irony: Lucretius’ De rerum natura, which Greenblatt holds up as the antithesis to his version of an intellectually bereft, self-flagellating medieval Christianity, was (re)discovered…in a monastery.

Try any of these instead:
Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance
Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse
The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West
The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science
Subverting Aristotle: Religion, History, & Philosophy in Early Modern Science
Plato’s Timaeus as Cultural Icon
1 vote HectorSwell | Mar 1, 2015 |
Really a comprehensive book. It follows the acceptance by the public of one book in particular that presented ideas that helped shape modern thinking. The pace drags a bit here and there but overall worth the time. ( )
  Laine-Cunningham | Feb 22, 2015 |
An interesting book. ( )
  RJ_Bailey | Jan 23, 2015 |
There are several salient truths about Stephen Greenblatt’s "The Swerve": it serves as a highly instructive history about remarkable events of six hundred years ago and persuades us of the inexpressible importance of those events; from beginning to end it presents its observations in highly engaging language, which never even veers close to academic jargon; the combination of these and other characteristics won for it the 2011 National Book Award for non-fiction and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction. I exhort you to take it up and find out why.

On a chill January day in 1417, an out of work scholar and former secretary to a disgraced pope, a man named Poggio Bracciolini uncovered a musty manuscript in a German monastery, and altered history in ways and to an extent he could never have foreseen. For he had unearthed Lucretius’ "On the Nature of Things" ("De Rerum Natura"). Published around 50 BCE, this long, challenging, and stunningly beautiful poem expounds some remarkably modern-seeming concepts: matter is made up of atoms, that these atoms cannot be destroyed, that they are constantly in motion, that nature is always experimenting, that the universe was not created for or about humans, and that human society began in a primitive battle for survival.

The logical ends of these ideas put Lucretius’ adherents into some terribly hot water in the 15th and 16th centuries: Lucretius held that the soul died, that there was no afterlife, that all organized religions are superstitious delusions, and that nothing generates a deeper sense of wonder than understanding the true nature of things. These ideas would generate controversy even today, but they opened the way for and informed the most glorious flowerings of Renaissance art, for Copernicus and Galileo, and for Francis Bacon and Shakespeare, to mention only the merest few.

The other salient truth about this book is that it focuses us on the recovery of a long-forgotten poet and his long-suppressed ideas and the massive and irreversible influence they have wielded on the world. Mr. Greenblatt’s accomplishment matches his concept: it is as grand as it is accessible, as persuasive as it is engaging. For anyone interested in the traditions of Western thought, this is a must read.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-swerve-by-stephen-greenblatt.html ( )
  LukeS | Dec 19, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 73 (next | show all)
The distortions in Greenblatt’s narrative may have slipped past the Pulitzer committee, but they won’t slip by someone with even a basic knowledge of church his­tory. St Jerome, to be sure, is no inconsequential figure, but Greenb­latt focuses most of his attention on Lactantius and Peter Damian. He is more interested in the latter because he reformed the already self­abasing
Benedictine order in the eleventh century, making voluntary self-flag­ellation “a central ascetic practice of the church” and thus accomplishing the thousand year struggle “to secure the triumph of pain seeking” (107). If this is genuinely how Green­blatt understands the significance and nature of the Benedictine order, one can only wonder why Harvard retains him.
added by 2wonderY | editHumanitas, Jeffrey Polet (Sep 3, 2013)
Greenblatt's story of the unleashing of the pleasure principle on the European world after the discovery of Lucretius conveys his own passion for discovery, and displays his brilliance as a storyteller. The Swerve is, though, a dazzling retelling of the old humanist myth of the heroic liberation of classical learning from centuries of monastic darkness. The light of Rome fades into gloom, sheep graze in the Forum; then the humanists rebel against the orthodoxies of the church, bring about a great recovery of classical texts and generate a new intellectual dawn. This book makes that story into a great read, but it cannot make it entirely true.
added by 2wonderY | editThe Guardian, Colin Burrow (Dec 23, 2011)
The ideas in “The Swerve” are tucked, cannily, inside a quest narrative. The book relates the story of Poggio Bracciolini, the former apostolic secretary to several popes, who became perhaps the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His most significant find, located in a German monastery, was a copy of Lucretius’ “On the Nature of Things,” which had been lost to history for more than a thousand years. Its survival and re-emergence into the world, Mr. Greenblatt suggests, was a kind of secular miracle.

Approaching Lucretius through Bracciolini was an ingenious idea. It allows Mr. Greenblatt to take some worthwhile detours: through the history of book collecting, and paper making, and libraries, and penmanship, and monks and their almost sexual mania for making copies of things.

The details that Mr. Greenblatt supplies throughout “The Swerve” are tangy and exact.
This concise, learned and fluently written book tells a remarkable story. It may not quite tell us "how the Renaissance began", as the subtitle rather rashly promises, but the episode it describes is certainly resonant. Highly skilled, close-focus readings of moments of great cultural significance are Stephen Greenblatt's speciality, whether in "new historicist" studies such as Marvellous Possessions, about the European encounter with the New World, or in his more populist biography Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare.

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Greenblattprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballerini, EduardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Binder, KlausÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To Abigail and Alexa
First words
(Preface) When I was a student, I used to go at the end of the school year to the Yale Coop to see what I could find to read over the summer.
In the winter of 1417, Poggio Bracciolini rode through the wooded hills and valleys of southern Germany toward his distant destination, a monastery reputed to have a cache of old manuscripts.
But the extravagance and bitterness of the charges – in the course of a quarrel over Latin style, Poggio accused the younger humanist Lorenzo Valla of heresy, theft, lying, forgery, cowardice, drunkenness, sexual perversion, and insane vanity – discloses something rotten in the inner lives of these impressively learned individuals. (p. 146)
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393064476, Hardcover)

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Non-Fiction

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. 16 pages full-color illustrations

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:46 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A humanities professor describes the impact had by the translation of the last remaining manuscript of On the Nature of Things by Roman philosopher Lucretius, which fueled the Renaissance and inspired artists, great thinkers and scientists.

» see all 5 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
357 wanted6 pay2 pay

Popular covers


Average: (3.94)
1 5
1.5 3
2 14
2.5 6
3 54
3.5 31
4 132
4.5 30
5 93


An edition of this book was published by Audible.com.

See editions

W.W. Norton

An edition of this book was published by W.W. Norton.

» Publisher information page

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 96,572,004 books! | Top bar: Always visible