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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

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Performance
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  •  
    Michael Berkeley, CA, USA 08-03-13
    Michael Berkeley, CA, USA 08-03-13 Member Since 2003
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    1
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    Story
    "No money in atheism"
    Where does The Swerve rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    I came away from this book with the same question I always ask. Why hasn't mankind cast off the belief in a creator "god"? The answer I am coming to is that there is no financial profit to be made in atheism. The jet setting popes, rabbis, mullahs, and evangelical preacher all attest to the financial success of any religion. Getting a group of atheists together is meaningless. What would we discuss? Talking about the absence of belief is a very short conversation.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Boulder, CO, United States 01-06-13
    Thomas Boulder, CO, United States 01-06-13 Member Since 2000
    HELPFUL VOTES
    23
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    177
    15
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    FOLLOWING
    1
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    "Gave up after an hour"

    The first hour is about the author's mother, who expected to die at any moment, yet lived into her 90s. It wasn't interesting. We gave up after an hour.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Anne Ottawa, ON, Canada 11-20-12
    Anne Ottawa, ON, Canada 11-20-12 Member Since 2011
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    "A Key to Understanding our Civilization"
    What made the experience of listening to The Swerve the most enjoyable?

    I learned about a very useful philosophy (Epicurianism) while enjoying the suspense of the hunt by the 15th century papal secretary for a 4th century BCE manucript.


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

    The story of the discovery and eventual deciphering of the carbonized scrolls at the villa in Herculaneum that was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius. This book profiles the marvelous skill that goes into preserving knowledge, both as it was done in ancient times and as it is done today.

    The story of the assassination of Hypatia is also riveting.


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

    I felt a gentle elation to hear the wisdom of Epicurus as expressed by Lucretius, and realize that to embrace this conception of the nature of things frees my mind and gives me an achievable goal for my life. It is a great shame that the church establishment from ancient times till the 20th century discredited it, slandered it, developed the doctrine that pain leads to righteousness in order to oppose its truths, and buried it.

    That Lucretius' poem was finally resurrected from a monastery library was so unlikely that it is the perfect example of Epicurus' concept of the swerve: the highly improbable chance conjunction of events that leads to a constructive result.

    Lucretius' poem was a very rare thing: a very beautiful work of art describing scientific reality as it was known at the time. Greenblatt's book is also a work of art, this time describing the history of the poem and the philosophy it propounds as authentically as possible given what we can know from the evidence today.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mavis Ashland, WI, United States 05-08-12
    mavis Ashland, WI, United States 05-08-12
    ratings
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    2
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    "The Swerve"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Swerve to be better than the print version?

    I do not think I will rate one better than the other, rather I would rate either media as a great bit of history to either listen to or read.


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

    Poggio reaching out to the shelf and taking down this old manuscript.


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

    His Italian background.


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

    A sense all the way through the history that we today are connected to a time almost 2000 years ago where the subject under discussion is a reality in our everyday world and we still struggle with those concepts.


    Any additional comments?

    What a profound impact this poem had on the lives of many people and that they were reading this, and discussing the concepts, at great risk to themselves.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeff hackettstown, NJ, United States 05-14-12
    Jeff hackettstown, NJ, United States 05-14-12 Member Since 2005
    ratings
    REVIEWS
    10
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    "Tedious"
    What disappointed you about The Swerve?

    The narration is spoken in a secretive whipser that does not add to the story contrary to what he may believe


    What was your reaction to the ending? (No spoilers please!)

    It could have been at the beginning and saved me 8 hours of boredome and meandering plot


    How could the performance have been better?

    Different reader


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    It was an interesting premise just a poor delivery on the expectation


    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
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