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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 (1203 )
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Performance
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  •  
    M. Conway 12-24-12
    M. Conway 12-24-12
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    "An amazing book"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Anybody who is interested in the history of ideas should read this book.


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    His reading is dignified and his Italian pronumciation is impeccable.


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

    It filled me with admiration for Greenblatt's research, and I was amazed by the progression of history from Greece to Rome to Christianity that I never learned in school. This is an important take on European history.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gregory LILBURN, GA, United States 12-06-12
    Gregory LILBURN, GA, United States 12-06-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Overhyped, but solid"
    What did you like best about The Swerve? What did you like least?

    It's an interesting history of the discovery of a Roman poem and it's discoverer. As most history works do it tours setting, Renaissance Europe, but that tour is barely adequate. The main narrative is I suspect as strong as the evidence allows and is as I said interesting and worth reading. However the thesis of the author that this roman poem played an important role in 'making the world modern' is thinly supported at best.

    Overall an average book, good for someone already predisposed to liking historical works, not likely to appeal to general reader and definitely not worthy of the awards it has recieved.


    What do you think the narrator could have done better?

    The narrator neither adds not detracts from the text, and with a nonfiction book, that is usually all the narrator can do,


    Could you see The Swerve being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

    No


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alex Bejan 11-26-12
    Alex Bejan 11-26-12
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    "erudite and captivating"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    It reveals the life of ancient books and the people that keep them alive through eons and avatars.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    The main character of the book is Lucretius' manuscript itself. Though much guessed and revealed indirectly through the lives and actions of people that came in contact with it, The Nature of Things has a colossal spiritual force that changed the world once, then survived centuries of systematic attempts to eliminate it completely from history and from the world, then came to life again and changed the history of humankind forever.


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    It's very clear, well paced, and only rarely lets transpire the limited understanding of what he is reading.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The part about the villa in Herculaneum.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mary V 11-12-12
    Mary V 11-12-12 Member Since 2007
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    "Fascinating History"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    What a great way to learn history! This book captivates like a novel but provides the most interesting perspective on philosophy and science thousands of years old. Who knew that the "atom" was a concept promoted by Epicurus hundreds of years before the birth of Christ? Or that Thomas Jefferson incorporated another concept, "pursuit of happiness" promoted by Lucretius in his epic poem, The Nature of Things. This book was fascinating from beginning to end.


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

    Edoardo Ballerini is THE BEST narrator that Audible has reading books. I found The Swerve by searching books that Edoardo narrated.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Marietta, GA, USA 10-30-12
    Daniel Marietta, GA, USA 10-30-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Well worth a listen"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Swerve to be better than the print version?

    I have not read the book.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Very interesting view of history that I was unaware of.


    What three words best describe Edoardo Ballerini’s voice?

    Voice is somewhat slow but I listen at double speed. I think I used triple speed for this one!


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

    I enjoyed the thorough treatment of the history.


    Any additional comments?

    I did not expect the book to cover what it did. The history was well written and highlights how much of human history is the product of chance and the dedicated works of single individuals at the right place and the right time. This is well worth the listen.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Heckyes Orangevale, ca, United States 10-28-12
    Heckyes Orangevale, ca, United States 10-28-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Great story, somewhat dense, easy to follow."

    Overall great message and story, if you are looking for a science non fiction book you might want to look elsewhere, but Swerve puts together a more literary based version of how we evolved as a race and goes into the drawbacks of religion in the progress of man etc.

    Really interesting historical perspective, would recommend to friends.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Quentin 10-09-12
    Quentin 10-09-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Good Book for the Brainy"
    Any additional comments?

    If you like "intellectual" books, you'll probably love this. It's a great book for anyone interested in ancient cultures, European history, the Catholic Church, and old books. The writing is good, the narrator is good, and the story is interesting.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    DG The Woodlands, TX, United States 10-01-12
    DG The Woodlands, TX, United States 10-01-12 Member Since 2008
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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
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    "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
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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
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