Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction • Winner of the National Book Award • New York Times Bestseller
Renowned scholar Stephen Greenblatt brings the past to vivid life in what is at once a supreme work of scholarship, a literary page-turner, and a thrilling testament to the power of the written word.
In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a dusty shelf in a remote monastery, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. He was Poggio Bracciolini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery, Lucretius’ ancient poem On the Nature of Things, had been almost entirely lost to history for more than a thousand years.
It was a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functions without the aid of gods, that religious fear is damaging to human life, that pleasure and virtue are not opposites but intertwined, and that matter is made up of very small material particles in eternal motion, randomly colliding and swerving in new directions. Its return to circulation changed the course of history. The poem’s vision would shape the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein, and—in the hands of Thomas Jefferson—leave its trace on the Declaration of Independence.
From the gardens of the ancient philosophers to the dark chambers of monastic scriptoria during the Middle Ages to the cynical, competitive court of a corrupt and dangerous pope, Greenblatt brings Poggio’s search and discovery to life in a way that deepens our understanding of the world we live in now.
“An intellectually invigorating, nonfiction version of a Dan Brown–like mystery-in-the-archives thriller.” —Boston Globe
In this gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history, Harvard Shakespearean scholar Greenblatt (Will in the World) turns his attention to the front end of the Renaissance as the origin of Western culture's foundation: the free questioning of truth. It hinges on the recovery of an ancient philosophical Latin text that had been neglected for a thousand years. In the winter of 1417 Italian oddball humanist, smutty humorist, and apostolic secretary Poggio Bracciolini stumbled on Lucretius' De rerum natura. In an obscure monastery in southern Germany lay the recovery of a philosophy free of superstition and dogma. Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" harked back to the mostly lost works of Greek philosophers known as atomists. Lucretius himself was essentially an Epicurean who saw the restrained seeking of pleasure as the highest good. Poggio's chance finding lay what Greenblatt, following Lucretius himself, terms a historic swerve of massive proportions, propagated by such seminal and often heretical truth tellers as Machiavelli, Giordano Bruno, and Montaigne. We even learn the history of the bookworm a real entity and one of the enemies of ancient written-cultural transmission. Nearly 70 pages of notes and bibliography do nothing to spoil the fun of Greenblatt's marvelous tale. 16 pages of color illus.
Customer ReviewsSee All
An enlightening and entertaining read
The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2012, and the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2011. An enlightening and entertaining read.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Swerve. It is enlightening, educational and entertaining and is an easy read. I have already recommended it to friend and family and will so continue.
Overall I enjoyed the book it was a good read. The author was eloquent in his style and the book flowed well. The subject itself was intriguing and from the beginning it set high expectation to what was to come. I was somewhat disappointed how the story unravelled. There was no climax as such and the story slowly started to lose steam at the very end. I was also surprised that there was no reference to the Islamic scholars of the period. There was a brief mention of ibn Rushd but it didn't serve these scholars there right. For the Islamic scholars of this age were instrumental in preserving the rich culture of the pre dark age west.