Pulitzer Prize, General Nonfiction, 2012
National Book Award, Nonfiction, 2012
Renowned historian Stephen Greenblatt’s works shoot to the top of the New York Times best-seller list. With The Swerve, Greenblatt transports listeners to the dawn of the Renaissance and chronicles the life of an intrepid book lover who rescued the Roman philosophical text On the Nature of Things from certain oblivion.
Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late 30s 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 by Lucretius—a beautiful poem containing 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.
©2011 Stephen Greenblatt (P)2011 Recorded Books, LLC
"More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian." (Kirkus Reviews)
"In this gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history, Harvard Shakespearean scholar Greenblatt turns his attention to the front end of the Renaissance as the origin of Western culture's foundation: the free questioning of truth." (Publishers Weekly)
“Pleasure may or may not be the true end of life, but for book lovers, few experiences can match the intellectual-aesthetic enjoyment delivered by a well-wrought book. In the world of serious nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt is a pleasure maker without peer.” (Newsday)
Outstanding book tells the story of the rediscovery of classical texts during the late-Middle Ages & early Renaissance. Greenblatt is especially effective in providing context to the period of discovery, the
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!
I ignore genre labels. Some of my favorite books are outside my genre comfort zone. Listening to audiobooks is still reading. Not theater.
I purchased this book quite some time ago. I started to read it then, but put it aside because at the time I wasn't up for the level of attention it clearly required. I recently picked it up and this time I made it through. I am very glad I did.
The focus of the book is on the rediscovery of an ancient poem "On the Nature of Things" by Lucretius, and the impact that rediscovery had on the swerve towards modernity and the beginning of the Renaissance. The poem, which stems from the author's devotion to the beliefs and ideals of Epicurianism, was written almost 2100 years ago and was rediscovered by a priest on a mission almost 600 years ago.
I admit I have never made it through an entire translation of "On the Nature of Things" and since I don't read classical Latin I will never tackle the original. But I have read substantial portions and have found them both lyrical, perceptive and surprisingly modern. I was interested in learning about how the poem was viewed within the context of the time of its rediscovery.
I think it is far fetched to give this rediscovery alone so much credit for swerving western civilization into the modern world. But I do agree it is one of the important factors. Greenblatt used this event as a launching point to explore several of these events and factors and the key participants at the time. The portions of the book that focused on the time period, the people and leaders who lived through them and especially the martyrs created by a church desperate to avoid any thoughts or ideas that did not mesh neatly with their doctrine, were fascinating. Much of this information wasn't new, but Greenblatt is quite a story teller. Large sections of the book were real page-turners. And it is rare to find a non-fiction book about a 2000 year old poem written to honor one of the fringe philosophical movements of the time, that was rediscovered by a Catholic priest about 1600 years later after being long forgotten and buried in a monastery, that could achieve "page-turner" status.
I highly recommend this book. And I highly recommend it be listened to. Edoardo Ballerini is one of my favorite narrators and he does an outstanding job on this book. His narration is what moves this from a four star to a five star.
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.
Very Interesting book, part History, part Philosophy, the philosophy of Epicurus via Lucretius is amazingly insightful, it blows my mind that people so long ago with no scientific instruments and nothing more than their reason could so precisely know the world for what it truly is, from Atomic theory to Evolutionary Biology they seemed to somehow divine these truths using only their reason, ideas that have been confirmed by modern science thousands of years later.
In contrast i never fully realized just how stunting Christianity and Christian Dogma has been on Western Civilizations Intellectual growth, its inflexibility and downright hostility to any ideas that challenged its orthodoxy, though ironically much of the ideas of the ancients have only survived because the texts were copied and preserved by the Monasteries of Europe,
I would listen to The Swerve again because it covers so much ground. There are many themes and literary references that get you going out searching for texts of your own. Very inspiring.
The narrator was easy to follow in tone, pitch, volume and most importantly put the proper emphasis one the lines in the story.
Just keep it a book
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.
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.
A great history lesson that devolves into an anti-sermon.
What does that mean?
We are completely immerse in our western history, particularly Roman Catholic History, with extreme detail. It's all jaw dropping stuff until his conclusions. these are sadly from the point of view of someone who as a humanist turns his findings into a case against religion. The author tells us to open our minds to escape our beliefs but only to encase us again in his own humanist evangelism, which is still a belief and in the end no less a religion.
The story of how story of the out of work Humanist, Poggio Bracciolini, recovered Lucretius’s poetic work, On the Nature of Things (De rerum natura) won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction.
Poggio's life story is interesting, but the narrow scope of the book provides an interesting view of the Rennaisance without fully being all a work on the recovery of important ideas could be. I am quibbling with a good book that I wanted to be a great book and yet it was an interesting work.
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