Title: The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
Author: Stephen Greenblatt (narrated by Edoardo Ballerini)
Publisher: WW Norton, 2012
Summary/Review: Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and is a historian. His most recent book ,winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for general Non Fiction, revolves around a Roman poem by Lucretius entitled On the Nature of Things. The poem, startling even for its time, asserts that there are only atoms that make up this universe, and the matter and the recombining of matter is all accidental – there is no god who guides and plans our lives; no god that cares about our existence. This is a startling assertion: a very disturbing and very modern idea is postulated about 50 years BCE!
Greek papyrus, Roman papyrus and codex suffer: the ideas of the ancients deteriorate during the middle ages due to book worms, deterioration of ink and paper, persecution by church officials who deem them heretical, and the general ravages of time. Enter Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th-century papal emissary, scribe and book hunter, who found a neglected copy of On the Nature of Things in a German monastery, copying it and distributing it to his humanist friends, and thus reintroducing important ideas to the Renaissance and beyond, ideas that are even found in our own Declaration of Independence. There is so much more to this book that I can tell you here – and not all historians agree with Dr. Greenblatt. But this was a fantastic “listen” – the narrator is excellent.
Who will like this book?: History buffs and philosophical thinkers. Someone looking for a non-fiction read that will illuminate the history of thinking.
If you like this, try this: If you enjoyed Greenblatt’s writing, he has a number of other books – many focused on Shakespeare. If you’d like to go back to the basics, “On the Nature of Things” is readily available, as are multiple interpretations and writings about the poem.
Recommended by: Susan Z, Reference Librarian