The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Stephen Greenblatt, Author
Stephen Greenblatt. Norton, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-06447-6
Reviewed on: 06/20/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Paperback - 356 pages - 978-0-09-957244-2
Open Ebook - 368 pages - 978-0-393-08338-5
Hardcover - 356 pages - 978-0-224-07878-8
Downloadable Audio - 978-1-4640-0090-4
Paperback - 368 pages
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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. (Sept. 19)
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