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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Hardcover – Sep 27 2011

4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: WW Norton; First Edition edition (Sept. 27 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064476
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 4.8 x 24.4 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #131,021 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian.” — starred review (Kirkus Reviews)

“In this outstandingly constructed assessment of the birth of philosophical modernity, renowned Shakespeare scholar Greenblatt deftly transports reader to the dawn of the Renaissance...Readers from across the humanities will find this enthralling account irresistible.” — starred review (Library Journal)

“[] is thrilling, suspenseful tale that left this reader inspired and full of questions about the ongoing project known as human civilization.” — Boston Globe

“Can a poem change the world? Harvard professor and bestselling Shakespeare biographer Greenblatt ably shows in this mesmerizing intellectual history that it can. A richly entertaining read about a radical ancient Roman text that shook Renaissance Europe and inspired shockingly modern ideas (like the atom) that still reverberate today.” — Newsweek

“A fascinating, intelligent look at what may well be the most historically resonant book-hunt of all time.” — Booklist

“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

About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, he is the author of eleven books, including The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (winner of the 2011 National Book Award and the 2012 Pulitzer Prize); Shakespeare's Freedom; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare; Hamlet in Purgatory; Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; and Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. He has edited seven collections of criticism, including Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize, for both Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England and The Swerve, the Sapegno Prize, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale University Graduate School, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When this book was published I read a number of positive reviews but was reluctant to read the book thinking that the focus on greek history may be somewhat dull. I was wandering through what remains of the stacks in our publice library and again came across this book. I signed it out and very quickly became absorbed by what is an interesting dialogue. This dialogue is about the influence of the church versus the influence of science. A Notary, Poggio Bracciolini, in the year 1417 serves as the centre piece for the search for, the discovery of, and the subsequent dissemination of Lucretius's ancient poem "On the Nature of Things". Mr. Greenblatt uses this dialogue to tell what is one of the most important stories related to the late evolution of human thought. Lucretius' poem is heralded as one of the original basis for the development of science and celebrates the philosophy of Epicurius. For anyone who struggles with or is interested in the tyranny of religious imposition, or who struggles with religious belief, this book is a must read.
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Format: Hardcover
The scientists searching for the God Particle -- the phenomenon that turned energy into mass at the time of the Big Bang to create the universe as we know it -- say they're closing in on their quarry.Of course, there's nothing God-like about what they're hunting, but the fact they've chosen to give it this name aptly illustrates our preoccupation throughout human history with deities of one kind or another.

Human beings created Gods (in our likeness?) around the time that we moved from hunter-gatherer status to tillers of the soil -- or maybe earlier. The Sumerians, ancient Greeks and then the Romans codified their Gods but it took the rise of Judaism and Christianity -- and later Islam -- to create the monotheistic, all-fearing, vengeful God handed down to us in the Common Era.

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt (W.W. Norton) explores how some of the early philosophers, notably Epicurus in 3rd century BCE Greece, and Lucretius in 1st century BCE Rome, challenged this belief in gods. Greenblatt has constructed a fascinating narrative around a 15th century ex-Papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini, who found the forgotten manuscript of Lucretius, On The Nature of Things, in a monastery in southern Germany. He had it copied (in beautiful calligraphy as readable as modern printing), and soon it was influencing the work of Renaissance thinkers, insidiously undermining the conventional wisdoms of the Church. With the discovery, Greenblatt writes, "the world swerved in a new direction."

Epicurus had taught that the gods, if they exist, did not care at all about human beings. If the gods did not care, why should we?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An engaging look at philosophy, writing, the art of both and the history of our beliefs. Really thought provoking and insightful. Writing and its power, writing as artwork and our crazy history.

A real pleasure.
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Format: Hardcover
I picked this one up after reading a review from the G&M's Jane Smiley, which I will never do again. The purported premise of Lucretius' work shaping the Renaissance had me hooked. Even the blurb's claim of Lucretius' influence on Einstein, Freud, Darwin, Jefferson had raised high hopes. But of course I was wrong. This book is nothing of what it purports to be. Most of the book is about the life of Poggio Bracciolini, who discovered and had Lucretius' work transcribed and thus 'disseminated' it to the world.

But what of it? A particular instance of history doesn't explain anything to me. There is absolutely no discussion of how On the Nature of Things actually formed the geist, if you will, of the Renaissance. The only connection Greenblatt draws is that it was simply read in the past, and therefore, it shaped the modern world. Are you kidding me? There are bits of useless information such as definitive proof of Montaingne's ownership of the poem, etc, but nothing in this book establishes the connection of psyche of Lucretius to the psyche of the Renaissance and beyond; perhaps one doesn't exist. But more importantly, even these cursory, contrived connections between Lucretius and the modern world, are only summarized in a single chapter. Most of the book is about the idiosyncrasies of Poggio and his times. Bits of entertaining information such as papal scribes hurling insults at one another have absolutely nothing to do with the supposed overarching theme of the book.

The only value of this book is in reading about facts related to Poggio Bracciolini not discussed in wikipedia. If you want to learn about Lucretius' influence in the modern world, look elsewhere (better yet, just read him).
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The philosophy of Epicurus can be found in Aristotle,Spinoza,Montaigne, etc. etc. etc. Greenblatt writes so well. That anyone even slightly interested in philosophy can see the deep preponderance of Lucretius's theories in our modern intellectual world. Even Einstein recognized his debt to him.
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