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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