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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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  • Overall
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Startlingly Unexpected

I wasn't expecting this to be as good as it is. I expected sterile and dry but well researched. What I got was well researched but unexpectedly absorbing and fascinating. Time well spent.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Michael
  • Berkeley, CA, USA
  • 08-03-13

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.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Gerald
  • YAKIMA, WASHINGTON, United States
  • 07-10-13

Great Book

Would you listen to The Swerve again? Why?

I've listen to Swerve twice; I even bought the hard copy of the book.

What about Edoardo Ballerini’s performance did you like?

Great voice; keeps you captivated and interested.

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

Yes, I even had my friends listen to certain parts.

Any additional comments?

Great Book, time well spent.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Brandon
  • SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA, United States
  • 06-29-13

Fascinating History of Manuscripts and Thought

I'm not sure what I enjoyed more about this book, the history of manuscripts and the lengths of adventure one had to go through in order to discover them in the middle ages, the insights into the philosophy and worldview of a certain class in Roman society, or the fresh view on the birth of the Renaissance. But one thing that is certain is that I enjoyed all these aspects in this performance. In some ways this book is a hodgepodge of diverse subjects from the history of free thinking to the history of ancient manuscripts, but it never feels disjointed. It was one of those works that, when it ended after nearly 10 yours, left you yearning for more. After finishing this audio book, I went on to read Lucretius' 'On the Nature of Things', the rediscovery of which was the topic of this work, which was also a fascinating work in its own right, but not nearly as fun or as riveting of this superb performance.

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An excellent find

This was not at all what I expected from the subtitle but it was an intriguing story nonetheless. Mystery, history, philosophy, the Vatican, rare book hunters, colourful characters and much more. All of this revolving around the rather accidental rediscovery of a lost text. Who knew something so seemingly small would have such an incredible influence on western culture. Very interesting! really enjoyed it.

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  • David
  • Tampa, FL
  • 06-07-13

Mixed results - great history, too much other

This book is very interesting, and also hard to review. The historical content about On The Nature of Things by Lucretius is very good and well researched. However, it is also a very small part of the book. Most of the book is about the person that re-discover the poem - Poggio Bracciolini. While I find some of the information about Poggio interesting, it has less to do with the thesis by Greenblatt on the poems influence on the Renaissance.

It is very clear that Greenblatt has a great deal of admiration and respect for Poggio, and that he values his contribution in finding On The Nature of Things greatly. However, the act of discovery is only a small part of the book. He spends a great deal telling us of how Poggio became who he was, what circles he traveled in, how his employer the Pope lost his job, how he eventually made his own way, and eventually how he retired.

I very much enjoyed the information around Lucretius' poem, but thought the material about Poggio was just too much.

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I was amazed!

Any additional comments?

This book is wonderful. It is a story that everyone should know. I was stunned by accomplishments of people thousands of years ago and how ignorance destroyed much of the knowledge our ancestors tried to bequeath to us.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • John
  • Henderson, NV, United States
  • 05-23-13

Heavy Breathing Detracts from Great Book

Where does The Swerve rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of my favorite non-fiction books.

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

Destiny Disrupted. Both presented historic facts like a dramatic story (in a good way).

What aspect of Edoardo Ballerini’s performance would you have changed?

Improve breathing, eliminate heavy breaths.

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

No.

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  • James
  • Noumea, New Caledonia
  • 05-13-13

Amazing. Simply incredible on every front.

Okay - I'm a little biased. I dance to an Epicurean drum. But this story has it all. If you've in the slightest bit interested in how a Roman poem, referencing Epicurus, written 100 years before Christ can sum up our 'modern scientific' view of life, the universe and everything, then this is your book.

I'm still buzzing about the wealth of ideas in this book. I'm getting "On The Nature Of Things' straight away.

Simply put this book is a gem. Plant a shovel and dig up the precious stuff inside.

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I loved this book

I'm a huge fan of Greenblatt's "Will in the World," so I was happy to try this one. I was not disappointed. This is a absorbing account of the re-discovery of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura in the Middle Ages and how it affected thinking in the Renaissance and beyond. The story is fascinating, the reader excellent, and listeners will not be disappointed. I'm now reading Lucretius' poem itself, and only wish that I could read it in the original Latin, though A.E. Stallings has a good recent (2007) translation.