Ah, Stephen Greenblatt. How much I prefer you to Harold Bloom. You prove things, not just assert them. You have a clear narrative, though not lacking in complexity. I really have to read more Greenblatt.
The title is a bit misleading. How the world became modern? In what way? The narrative of this history revolves around the book On the Nature of Things by Lucretius. It is a beautifully written Latin poem that describes a world view familiar to modern-day atheists, philosophical Buddhists, and physics lovers. All the universe made up of moving atoms that form and fall apart and form other things. That being true, there are no gods, so enjoy the life you have before it is over forever. Don't mistake this for the reputation of Epicureanism of mindless pleasure. Real Epicureanism is more Buddhist, attempting to take pleasure in the now without excess, mindful that life has disappointments.
This text nearly disappeared during the Medieval period until a Renaissance book lover found it and saved it from obscurity and destruction.
The narrative first follows the philosophy in the ancient world, its restoration by the Italian book collector, then its spread in intellectual life throughout the centuries, influencing many writers and thinkers, including the American Founding Fathers.
This is a compelling read. Though 400+ pages, you don't feel them. It moves quickly, with stories, anecdotes, analysis, and appreciation of the fortunes of history and the beauty of an old poem.
I listen to a lot of audiobooks.
From reading the description of this book I was under the impression that the focus would be on the content of the revolutionary book written by Lucretius. The book focuses on everything outside of that, which was interesting, but also left me thinking, when are we going to get to Lucretius? Nevertheless, it was a fascinating book, albeit dense and at times dry. Best read in short bursts for the casual reader.
Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!
I'm of two minds about this unusual book. On the one hand, it is a fascinating story about a book hunter and the extraordinary work he saves from near extinction. On the other hand, it's a history and commentary on the pre-Renaissance Western world. An interview with Stephen Greenblatt on NPR led me to expect the first subject; I didn't so much anticipate tackling the other.
Don't get me wrong -- the historical details are most interesting. There's eye-opening detail about the miseries perpetrated in the name of religion; one can feel the political and physical dangers of the times. I'm just saying there was so much digression from the story of Lucretius' book and the search that uncovered it that I had to take a few lengthy breaks from the listen.
I believe I was confounded partly by the narration. Mr. Ballerini's voice drones on in the manner of a sadly disappointed parent lecturing a misbehaving child. It's not an unpleasant voice, but it never varies from a rather sing-song tone, and it lacks enthusiasm.
On the whole, this is an extremely intelligent work of obviously rigorous research. There's much here for even the casual fan of history. So, I'd recommend it -- just take it easy, don't beat yourself up if you need a few breaks, and keep returning!
Lucretius may well be fascinating, but it is not at all clear how his De Rerum Natura was the "swerve" that changed our perceptions. It would seem that the author is somewhat overintent on trying to find a foundation for his own atheism. While I too am not a believer, this text seems something of a an exaggeration. But, beyond that, the incidents are most interesting.
More about the book hunters of the Renaissance.
I guess so.
Possibly as a documentary about Lucretius and the discovery of his poem. I'd avoid Greenblatt's over-wrought hypothesis that this one book changed the course of humanity, though.
I wouldn't buy this as an audiobook. Possibly it's better in hardcopy.
This book was very good, in parts excellent, but it wasn't as captivating as I had thought it would be based on the description. Somehow I was convinced it was going to be the greatest book ever! There were definitely sections that dragged and I wasn't always able to keep track of where we were in time. But the book did introduce me to Lucretius, which counts for a lot. I found the narrator's pace a bit slow at first, but I got used to it and he certainly has a beautiful voice.
There are two stories here. The first is an interesting story about a book hunter tracking down a lost tome. The other is an anti-religious diatribe. The former is compelling, the latter is heavy handed and inaccurate. The way the author frames Christianity in the first 1500 years would lead a read to believe they were all pleasure hating masochists. It is in this obvious disdain for religion that his credibility as intellectual guide through the ages is compromised.
What could have make The Swerve better? Focus on the first story.
The premise of this book and the supporting historical detail was well researched and interesting.
However, to create a "book-length" book, this premise is restated, repeated and so padded that it quickly became annoying. It would have made a very nice monograph at less than half the length.
Mr. Ballerini is easy to listen to and did a fine job with his narration.
Intriguing subject matter, well written, but the narrator is way too dramatic. Every sentence sounds like a proclamation from Mr. Sinai.
Chet Yarbrough, an audio book addict, exercises two cocker spaniels twice a day with an Ipod in his pocket and earbuds in his ears. Hope these few reviews seduce the public into a similar obsession but walk safely and be aware of the unaware.
“The Swerve” won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and 2011 National Book Award for Nonfiction. This is high praise for Stephen Greenblatt which one may guardedly agree with; i.e. the guardedness is in the suggestion that the story reveals “…How the World Became Modern”.
“The Swerve” is a book about books and the prescient insight of ancient philosophers that believed something to be true before science could prove it. Greenblatt’s thesis is that Poggio Bracciolini’s discovery of an ancient text changed the direction of human thought. Like suggesting that Lucretius’ insight forged modernity, Greenblatt overstates Poggio’s discovery as the re-direction of human thought.
“The Swerve” is an interesting book that suggests humanism pre-dates 19th century humanist philosophy by 2000 years. Considering Lucretius’ beliefs in man’s relationship to all things, the absence of a Prime Mover, a prescient belief in evolutionary selection, and particles that make the universe. Lucretius seems to pre-date Darwin, 16th century atheism, 18th century philosophy, 19th century science, and 20th century physics. “The Swerve” is quite an amazing story. Hopefully, there are many more swerves in humankind’s’ evolutionary journey.