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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern | [Stephen Greenblatt]

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 04-12-12
    Darwin8u Mesa, AZ, United States 04-12-12

    "... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^

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    "How One Book of Poetry Changed How We THINK!"

    A fascinating history of both Poggio Bracciolini's persuit of fading Latin texts, focusing on Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things", and the impact that Lucretius' philosophic poem had on the development and shape of the modern world.

    22 of 27 people found this review helpful
  •  
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 06-24-12
    C. Telfair Shepherdstown, WV, United States 06-24-12

    Audible has changed my life! Dry , itchy eyes were destroying one of my greatest pleasures - reading. Now I am experiencing books again!

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    "Hard to Keep Your Eye on the Road"

    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!

    9 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Constance Chicago, IL, United States 07-18-14
    Constance Chicago, IL, United States 07-18-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Masters Thesis, padded"
    What made the experience of listening to The Swerve the most enjoyable?

    The premise of this book and the supporting historical detail was well researched and interesting.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least 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.


    Have you listened to any of Edoardo Ballerini’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Mr. Ballerini is easy to listen to and did a fine job with his narration.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bob257 11-13-13
    Bob257 11-13-13
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    "The Wisdom of the Ancients"
    Any additional comments?

    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,

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joseph United States 06-17-13
    Joseph United States 06-17-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Great story and very good listen"
    Would you listen to The Swerve again? Why?

    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.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Swerve?

    Idk


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    The narrator was easy to follow in tone, pitch, volume and most importantly put the proper emphasis one the lines in the story.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Just keep it a book


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ted Lancaster, PA, United States 10-06-14
    Ted Lancaster, PA, United States 10-06-14 Member Since 2010

    Don't know what I want to be when I grow up. Trip's cool though. Use Audible to make gym-training sane... And rip my imagination.

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    "A Fulcrum Moment Uncovered"

    There are times on history's vector when its slope doesn't just get steeper but when the damned thing gets discontinuous… it doesn't slope upward as much as it takes a big step. Here Stephen Greenblatt meticulously reveals one of those leaps… or as he calls it… The Swerve. Don't worry, your eyes won't glaze in spite of that word "meticulous" up there. This is scholarly yet popular history writing wedded. And Edoardo Ballerini leads us through with patience yet with all of the appropriate drama. Nowhere does he make this seem a lecture… rather more like a good thriller. I liked it… And have bought the physical book as presents for a number of friends thanks to this listen.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anthony Ardmore, PA, United States 02-04-12
    Anthony Ardmore, PA, United States 02-04-12 Member Since 2015

    tonydm

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    "Not quite"

    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.

    12 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Julia 11-21-11
    Julia 11-21-11 Member Since 2013

    I listen to a lot of audiobooks.

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    "But wait..."

    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.

    16 of 23 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Frank Logue 10-07-14
    Frank Logue 10-07-14 Member Since 2014
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    "An interesting gllimpse at a life lived for books"
    Would you recommend The Swerve to your friends? Why or why not?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-17-14
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 06-17-14 Member Since 2014

    Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.

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    "SWERVE"

    “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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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