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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

Average Customer Rating

4.0 (1090 )
5 star
 (436)
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4.0 (940 )
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Story
4.1 (944 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
 (34)
1 star
 (24)
Performance
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  •  
    DG The Woodlands, TX, United States 10-01-12
    DG The Woodlands, TX, United States 10-01-12 Member Since 2008
    HELPFUL VOTES
    22
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    "So interesting and so boring at the same time!"
    What did you love best about The Swerve?

    The storyline is very interesting. I really wanted to know how it all turned out in the end and I learned something new at every listening.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Learning lots about the history of the time.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    NO!


    Any additional comments?

    The story is interesting, the length and depth are important to the overall tone and understanding. Unfortunately for me, sometimes it just bored me. I found I couldn't listen to it during my commute because it encouraged nodding off! I've listened to other histories and biographies without this outcome but don't think it was the narrator, he was fine, professional. I put to good use the variable narrator speed on the Android app. I might have given up without it and I really wanted to finish it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara Phoenix, AZ, United States 09-15-12
    Barbara Phoenix, AZ, United States 09-15-12 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    12
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    Story
    "Breathtaking in it's detail and historical sweep!"
    Where does The Swerve rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    The top.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The author brings to life characters about whom very little is known unless one reads the classics. My favorite might be Hypacia, or perhaps Bruno, who both were burned at the stake, but the man who hunted for lost Latin texts Poggio rescued an obscure poem, the philosophy of which runs through time all the way to our Declaration of Independence. It took my breath away.


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

    Never, but he was excellent. I especially enjoyed the facility he had with the Italian language and Latin.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    In the sense that I wanted to listen whenever I had a moment.


    Any additional comments?

    No surprise it won the Pulitzer. I loved it!!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    09-03-12
    09-03-12 Member Since 2015
    HELPFUL VOTES
    2
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    24
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    "Great story with powerful iimplications"
    Where does The Swerve rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    One ot the most engaging non fiction audio books I have listened to. I listened to it twice this past weekend and will listen to it again.


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

    No but Edoardo Ballerini"s natation here is perfect. I will be on the lookout for other audio books narrated by him.


    Any additional comments?

    It is amazing that it took 2,000 years for the west to get back to the level of intelectual and observational intelegence that the Greeks and Romans had attained. It is also amazing that Stephan Greenblatt can tell this story so engagingly.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    08-27-12
    08-27-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    15
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    71
    14
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    Story
    "An Interesting Dive into History"

    The author crafted a very interesting story around a humanist "book hunter," not only revealing how ancient books doomed to obscurity and likely dissolution were reintroduced to society 500+ years after their writing, but also providing insight into the 15th century thinking, the inner workings of the Vatican, as well how cities like Rome and Venice function. An informative and intriguing means of delivering a history lesson. The narrator was ideal for reading, keeping the story moving, speaking with just the right inflection and clarity.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dundas Malibu, CA, United States 08-21-12
    Dundas Malibu, CA, United States 08-21-12 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
    14
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    30
    27
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    "Grand history"

    Fascinating story. Most of the books I listen to are fiction, Nesbo, Lethem, Burke, and such. "Swerve" is full of lore that's new to me and helps explain aspects of our world today I hadn't understood.

    The writing is just splendid. It's paced, suspenseful, loving of knowledge, and an example to us all.

    The reader's fine. He's a reader, not someone needed to bring the work to life. The author has given us a book that needs no help coming to life.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. A. Kenner Germany 08-20-12
    J. A. Kenner Germany 08-20-12

    lOuisVille

    ratings
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    1
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    Story
    "A Wonderful Story"
    If you could sum up The Swerve in three words, what would they be?

    This highly comprehensive and illuminating story chronicles an Italian man's quest for the lost works of antiquity. From the reaches of utter obscurity, he discovers a piece of work that will help fuel the renaissance and change the path of western thought forever.


    What does Edoardo Ballerini bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    His pronunciation of Italian and Greek words and names.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It is one of the most interesting books I have ever encountered.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jerry Greenfield, NY, United States 08-18-12
    Jerry Greenfield, NY, United States 08-18-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
    5
    ratings
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    33
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    0
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    "Well narrated but a bit dry"
    Would you try another book from Stephen Greenblatt and/or Edoardo Ballerini?

    No


    What could Stephen Greenblatt have done to make this a more enjoyable book for you?

    Weaving in more mystery, interesting anecdotes.


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    His voice, his emphasis, pronunciations


    Did The Swerve inspire you to do anything?

    I stopped listening about 90 minutes into it.


    Any additional comments?

    If you're a real history buff, this book is a find. If you're just interested in history, but prefer it spiced up with some intrigue, then this may not be the book for you.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Modesto, CA, United States 07-28-12
    J. Modesto, CA, United States 07-28-12 Member Since 2011

    J. Jason Gale

    HELPFUL VOTES
    17
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    "5-STARS is VERY RARE from ME"

    This book is lyrical, almost poetic. It is so pleasurable that this reader is stunned that it is deeply profound as well.

    I have a better understanding of ancient and medieval history and philosophy from Swerve than I got in from classes at the University. Stephen made the characters alive and interactive in their political/social environs.

    Thanks to this book, I no longer think modernity evolved into our scientific perception of reality. Instead, it's clear to me that we rediscovered it. And quite accidentally.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John 07-11-12
    John 07-11-12
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    2
    1
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    Performance
    Story
    "Fantastic, a true eye opener"
    What did you love best about The Swerve?

    it gave me a new perspective on history and how important it is to learn from it.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher Union, NJ, United States 07-02-12
    Christopher Union, NJ, United States 07-02-12 Member Since 2010
    HELPFUL VOTES
    72
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    36
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    7
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    "Strange choice of title, but a great read"

    I've always wanted to know more about how ancient writings come down to us. There's a lot of detail about manuscripts and how long they last, and how little actually dates back to ancient times. I found it very interesting. The story of Poggio Bracciolini, the renaissance book hunter is also interesting. The author writes in wonderful prose. The reader compliments it nicely. If you like ancient/Roman/European history, this book is an entertaining overview.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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