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The Swerve Audiobook

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

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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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  •  
    Amazon Customer 03-18-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Brilliant, but..."
    Would you try another book from Stephen Greenblatt and/or Edoardo Ballerini?

    Certainly. I chose this book precisely because Ballerini read it.


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    His unbelievably intimate understanding of the books he reads.


    Did The Swerve inspire you to do anything?

    I've always been interested in history, and especially of the Middle Ages. I thought that Greenblatt's depiction, however correct, might have been more nuanced. Historians such as Duby, Le Goff and Pernoud have demonstrated that the Middle Ages were not simply a world of darkness and despair. Furthermore, as demonstrated by Rubenstein in Aristotle's Children, contrary to what Greenblatt implicitly claims, the Church played a major role in guaranteeing the survival of the greco-roman intellectual heritage.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick Mabry, Jr. 03-17-13 Member Since 2015

    An educator and senior who listens to his books from his phone through his hearing aids.

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    "A Poem that was a Touchstone to Modenity"

    This an interesting historical eye-opener for all those who thought the early Christians and especially the catholic church had an exclusive lease on the moral high ground. Using "The Nature of Things" a poem by Lucretius, an early century follower of the philosopher Epicurus as a historical touchstone, Stephen Greenblatt leads his reader/listener from the gods of early Rome, through the superstition of the dark ages and fanatical tyranny of the Roman Catholic church to age of enlightenment and even evolution. This is not a read/listen for those that hide among their sacred cows.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Miguel Cheswick, PA, US 03-15-13
    Miguel Cheswick, PA, US 03-15-13 Member Since 2012
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    "The best book I have read in many years..."
    If you could sum up The Swerve in three words, what would they be?

    Where will humanity be had mythology (religion) not interfered with the well developed human knowledge around the classic Greek era?


    What did you like best about this story?

    The exquisite documentation of historical facts.


    What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

    His accent, pronunciation of Italian terms, clear diction and emphasis.


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

    Absolutely... I could not put it down.


    Any additional comments?

    Marvelous!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Christopher 03-13-13
    Christopher 03-13-13

    history, science, et al.

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    "Intriguing, but at times insubstantial"

    "The Swerve" traces the little-known story of the poem "On the Nature of Things" by epicurean philosopher Titus Lucretius. Centuries ahead of its time, this poem envisioned a world governed by basic laws of physics operating at the atomic scale--and notably, the absence of a deity at the reins. Nearly lost to humanity during the dark ages, fortune put it in the hands of a bureaucratic book-hunter named Poggio Bracciolini in the 15th century.

    The book is roughly divided into two parts--one exploring the philosophy and setting of Lucretius' poem, and the other the biography of Bracciolini. Both are fascinating stories, with excellent details of everyday life in both eras. Although touched on, I felt that more direct examples of how the poem influenced modern philosophers and scientists were needed. The author spends a fair amount of time in wistful descriptions of the poem's art and philosophical depth, yet scarcely quotes directly from the poem itself. The narrator seems to reflect this in tone, seemingly breathless from partaking in beauty which is, irksomely, not always made apparent to the reader.

    In sum: Crucial for those interested in ancient philosophy and the Renaissance, although expect a high amount of surface to substance.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janine Sebastopol, CA, United States 03-04-13
    Janine Sebastopol, CA, United States 03-04-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Never a dull moment!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I love this book. How close our world came to NOT becoming enlightened. We might have been in the dark ages still. But we're not, and it's a miracle. We should count our blessings every day that we are literate! It's also a cautionary tale against all those who don't value critical thinking and higher learning.


    What other book might you compare The Swerve to and why?

    In a class by itself.


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

    Such a beautiful and sensuous reader of English and Italian.


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

    No.


    Any additional comments?

    There are some stand-out historical events and characters that will leave you thinking: how come I never knew about this?!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jack Austin, Texas, United States 02-26-13
    Jack Austin, Texas, United States 02-26-13 Member Since 2014
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    "Very thought provoking."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes. Anyone interested in history, science and relegion should enjoy this book.


    What other book might you compare The Swerve to and why?

    Can't think of one.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    I enjoyed learning about the important position of a Scribe during those times.


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

    Learning about the philosophy of Epicuras as it pertains to this world and after death.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roy North Central Massachusetts, United States 02-25-13
    Roy North Central Massachusetts, United States 02-25-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Misleading title, but still a fascinating read"

    This book purports to be a discussion of how the rediscovery of one of Lucretius' works ignited the Renaissance. It falls somewhat short of this lofty goal, but manages nonetheless to be a really interesting and well-researched representation of European culture during the time of the Western Schism of the Roman Catholic Church. The lives of popes and anti-popes of the period, their backstories, their political alliances, and the lot of everyday people is graphically discussed.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kimberly ANN ARBOR, MI, United States 02-19-13
    Kimberly ANN ARBOR, MI, United States 02-19-13 Listener Since 2008
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    "Nobody writes likes Greenblatt!"
    Would you listen to The Swerve again? Why?

    Yes, and I will. His thoughts are complex but one can follow.


    What other book might you compare The Swerve to and why?

    I really don't think there is a comparable book....perhaps Haidt.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    There are not scenes in this book, really.


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

    No. It's a little dense for one sitting, but I would gladly listen to it repeatedly.


    Any additional comments?

    More from Greenblatt. Students and scholars benefit greatly from his writings!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth THE WOODLANDS, TX, United States 02-11-13
    Elizabeth THE WOODLANDS, TX, United States 02-11-13 Member Since 2012

    Love that Texas weather!

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    "This book gives lots to mourn, much to celebrate"
    What made the experience of listening to The Swerve the most enjoyable?

    To say that I had no idea is to put it mildly. Greenblatt, in his thorough and inimitable style, tells of the world in Classical Greek and Roman times, how the growing Christian Church changed society and also preserved (despite themselves, seemingly) the "pagan" early writings, and how Petrarch inspired Poggio to (eventually) discover Lucretius's long poem, "On the Nature of Things." I have learned of the invention of beautiful handwriting, how books--codices-- existed in Greek and Roman times (it was not all scrolls), and that monks in the dark ages were required to know how to read, and to read daily for extended periods of time. I have learned so much; I am eager to re-read this book to fill in what I have missed in all the amazing disclosures. My long fascination with the Middle Ages and my complete ignorance of Classical Greek and Roman times are being amply rewarded with details and images of how it must have been.


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

    The realization of how deeply and extensively the ethic "Christian guilt and sin" quashed curiosity and learning.


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

    Language is speech; I appreciate hearing the words as well as reading the text. I am both listening and reading this book.


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

    This book introduces the reader to very exciting concepts and helps to connect modern times to ancient times. We are not so very different, except for the overlay of the Christian ethic. People and societies are so real in Greenblatt's telling. I can't wait to finish the book and read it again, making notes the second time.


    Any additional comments?

    I love this book!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Suman Amarnath Hyderabad, India 02-05-13
    Suman Amarnath Hyderabad, India 02-05-13 Member Since 2012

    Suman Amarnath

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    "Academic"

    If you are someone interested in the process of discovery of medieval books from ancient monasteries - this is the book for you. I am not one of these people but even I could make out that this book is erudite and smart in that field. My problem with this was just that. Drawn in by the blurb, by Prof Greenblatt's Charlie Rose interview where he described Lucretius as the "honey on the lip of a cup of bitter medicine" - I was disappointed that this book did not have enough of Lucretius for me. For almost 5/6th of the book it is clever writing about Europe (or even more specifically Italy) in Middle Ages. It may be that I misled myself, but I would've liked a lot more discussion on Lucretius instead, right from the beginning, and a closer examination of the ramification of the discovery of "On the nature of things" not just the finding of it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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