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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (edition 2011)

by Stephen Greenblatt

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1,306None5,963 (3.96)144
Member:PaulCranswick
Title:The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Authors:Stephen Greenblatt
Info:W. W. Norton & Co. (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 320 pages
Collections:Your library, History
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Tags:LT Recommended (Suzanne)

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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

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» See also 144 mentions

English (60)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (63)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
Excellent and fascinating read. It boggles the mind where we would be had the church not tried (and nearly succeed) to bury this information forever during the Dark-Middle ages. Talk about Kismet . . .
  Cheeble | Mar 25, 2014 |
12. [The Swerve: How the World Became Modern] by Stephen Greenblatt (DNF)
Category: Part I - Listopia - Pulitzer - Nonfiction
2012 Winner

This should have been a great read for me. A lost manuscript with poetry that talks about atoms and evolution by natural select in the ancient Roman world, later discovered in the Renaissance by and Italian humanist who stumbles upon it in a library, only to have its discovery and reintroduction influences aspects of our modern world (plus, for nonfiction it's fairly short).

But the entire tone is terribly dry and the flow tends to wander quite a lot. After one chapter, I put down the book, thinking "Wait, how did we get from bookworms and time's natural destruction of book pages to religious self flagellation?" It was only after flipping back through the chapter that I could see the progression and how it actually did make sense. But it seemed like just about every chapter was like this and I couldn't easily follow the flow of thoughts and the connections between them.

Today, I caught myself thinking, "I don't want to read this anymore." So, I'm giving myself a break an instead of struggling through, in going to go read something fun.
  andreablythe | Mar 7, 2014 |
extremely well-written; prose is clear and transparent ( )
  gldport | Feb 6, 2014 |
Cross-Posted from http://off-the-book.org.

“The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion.”

I would be delusional if I called Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve: How The World Became Modern anything but a book with poor scholarship merit and a premise that swerves away from reality and any kind of sense. I wasn't expecting that from an eminent Renaissance scholar and professor at Harvard, but there it is. How did this win a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award? I'll never understand. Maybe I'm missing something.

He starts the book by following a book collector as he searches for classical books figuratively buried by the sands of time. This book collector finds the last surviving manuscript of On The Nature of Things by Lucretius. Greenblatt argues that this manuscript was the direct influence on Renaissance thought, and heavily inspired important documents in American History. "The atoms of Lucretius had left their traces on the Declaration of Independence"? Really? Really, really? The best - or worst - part is that Greenblatt rarely follows up his overblown statements with anything resembling factual evidence.

It sounds like Greenblatt loved On The Nature of Things, and there is plenty to love in a poetic epic that was the precursor of modern atheistic thought. It certainly is a work of art. But "the swerve" in history that made the world shift onto a more "modern" path? I think not.

Oh, and by the way...what is modernity? Greenblatt only espouses the inevitable march to progress that most anthropologists now bash as heavily Eurocentric. Nowhere does this book mention how global forces, such as Islamic and East Asian thought led to "modernity." ( )
  amanda.mustafic | Jan 24, 2014 |
I wanted to like this but I ended up not finishing. Perhaps it would have been a better read but I was looking for a stronger narrative direction which never came. ( )
  ccayne | Jan 5, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (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.
 

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(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.
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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)
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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)

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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.

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