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.
I have read this twice. Wanted to make sure I didn't misunderstand any part of it. It was also a great pleasure to read the words and have them provide lush details of the past.
Greenblatt is able to offer several memorable moments that I could identify with as a human, a son and a father. The description of how the first Pope John XXIII was erased from history.
Ballerini's rich encapsulation of this book truly brought emotion, gravitas and levity at the right time. His portrayal of Poggio is my standout favorite.
This book was a pleasure to listen to. Looked forward to any break in my day to open this and reconnect with the freeing nature of the subject matter.
I spent most of my life listening for the words that could explain my beliefs. What I felt deep inside but did not have the confidence to describe in my own words. This book has given me tools by which I can forge a working description of my belief system.
yes, it gives a greater understanding of the ideas of the Renaissance
all of it
the missing link between religion and intellect
The story of how, in the early 15th century, former papal secretary Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini found the lost text of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura might not seem like a riveting read. I hesitated before buying it, thinking that I knew how it was going to go: Lucretius's text would be lost for about 1450 years, then Poggio would find it and then the poem would be influential in promoting non-Christian, perhaps even atheist thinking in the very Christian Western world.
That's pretty much how it does go, too. The only thing is, it's still very interesting. Poggio himself is just an instrument with little actual importance, though Greenblatt makes much of his origins and career. This bit is, to be honest, fluff - but it does give some ingisht into the period. More interesting, though somewhat shoved in through the back door, were the stories of Bruno and Galileo and their face-offs with the Inquisition. Also very interesting is the discussion of ancient philosophy and the Epicurean tradition and Lucretius himself, though there is so very little to say about him that not even Greenblatt manages to summon up a plausible, flesh-and-bone historical figure.
However, the most interesting bit is the actual applied discussion of the actual text. I haven't read De Rerum Natura, except perhaps a couple of lines in high school or college when discussing world literature or something. Now I'm discovering an amazing poet.
I'm not buying Greenblatt's thesis wholesale (that the world was "made modern" through the discovery of this one poem), but I was compelled by his obvious pleasure in the text (and I'm still moved by his love for Shakespeare, which I absolutely share, but that's by the way). And so, no regrets: this little book is absolutely worth reading.