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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (edition 2012)

by Stephen Greenblatt

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Title:The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Authors:Stephen Greenblatt
Info:W. W. Norton & Company (2012), Edition: 1, Paperback, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:***1/2
Tags:nonfiction, fascinating account of renaissance book hunter and scribe who discovers long lost Roman treasure, difficult read, some of the philosophy lost me but loved the history, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, 2012

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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt

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Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  dchaikin | Nov 6, 2014 |
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. ( )
2 vote quantum_flapdoodle | Oct 29, 2014 |
The story of how Lucretius', The Nature of Things, was found and brought to the modern world. At times it was over my head. I had to re-read some paragraphs to understand what was being said. I liked the synopsis of Lucretius' work. I also liked learning about the time of three popes. Interesting but need to read slowly to understand. ( )
  Sheila1957 | Oct 1, 2014 |
It's a good read, but does not quite live up to the title. You will learn a lot about Poggio and how he discovered the manuscript and a little about the Renaissance and its book hunters. De Rerum Natura did not make the world modern. It is just one small pebble in a large edifice that was being built as the West was transitioning into what was to become the modern world. It is a book written for a popular audience. ( )
  PedrBran | Jul 4, 2014 |
This is really more about how the poem "On the nature of things" by Lucretius was found and rescued by by Poggio Bracciolini. I wondered at first why the narrator had an Italian name if this book was in English, but there are so many Italian names to be pronounced. There is much about Bracciolini and his "interesting" life, but not really that much about how the poem affected individuals. Or I missed all of that while listening. Still, it piqued my interest in Lucretius.
  marfita | Jun 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stephen Greenblattprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
ballerini edoardoNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Binder, KlausÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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