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The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began Paperback – 6 Sep 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (6 Sep 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099572443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099572442
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University and is the founder of the school of literary criticism known as New Historicism. As visiting professor and lecturer at universities in England, Australia, the United States and elsewhere throughout the world, he has delivered such distinguished series of lectures as the Clarendon Lectures at Oxford and the University Public Lectures at Princeton. He has received two Guggenheim Fellowships and has been President of the Modern Language Association. Professor Greenblatt is the author and co-author of nine books and the editor of ten others, including The Norton Anthology of English Literature (7th edition) and The Norton Shakespeare.

Product Description


"Superbly readable... An exciting story, and Greenblatt tells it with his customary clarity and verve" (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst Daily Telegraph)

"Superb history ... this concise, learned and fluently written book tells a remarkable story" (Charles Nicholl Observer)

"Dazzling" (Guardian)

"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" (Library Journal)

"More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian (starred review)" (Kirkus Reviews)

Book Description

A riveting, exemplary tale of the great cultural "swerve" known as the Renaissance.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Devlin Mitchell on 8 May 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Last month this book won the Pulizter prize (in general non-fiction), which is how I found out about it. It tells the story of how Lucretius's poem, a 'secular bible', came to be discovered in the 1400s and some of its impact on Western thought since.

What I enjoyed:
- The style and structure brings a bit of 'Dan Brown' intrigue to what could otherwise be a fairly thin book
- Brings to life the social, political and religious context in which the manuscript was discovered
- Engaging style, the author's passion for his topic shines through
- Very clear and written for the non-specialist

What I didn't enjoy:
- The narrative feels quite padded, possibly due to the limited fact-base about the book's discoverer
- The structure of the book involves a bit of a dance until we reach the moment of discovery of the manuscript - a touch frustrating at times
- It felt as if there was a missing chapter about the actual content of Lucretius's book (as opposed to how the content related to 15th century Vatican politics)

Overall I enjoyed the book and found it opened my eyes to an influential work of literature that I had previously never heard of and I'd recommend it on that basis. However if you've already read about Lucretius or are knowledgeable about the late-medieval history of the Catholic church this probably isn't for you.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By westmer on 11 Oct 2011
Format: Hardcover
First of all, this is a good read. Greenblatt writes fluently, intelligently and can tell a good story, all of which makes him a good populariser. In The Swerve he takes part of the story of the Renaissance, the rescuing of Lucretius's immensely influential poem on the nature of things, and explores it in some detail. He probably tries to make this one episode in a complex history even bigger than it was but perhaps in a storyteller that's not a bad fault.

There's a subtext running throughout the book - basically a long blast against "intelligent design" which probably is more important for an American readership than a British one, although it's unlikely that many people who adhere to that stuff will read this. How can it be, he asks, that Lucretius (and other Ancients) could construct such a "modern" and intellectually coherent theory of everything, while our contemporaries (too many of them)want to dwell in ignorance, fear and superstition? The churches' attempts to suppress Lucretius's work and his epicurean world view continue to fail, but they fight hard. Greenblatt's frustration is palpable.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jo Brookes on 24 July 2013
Format: Paperback
This book is really good. Very readable and the story it tells is fascinating - the discovery, by an Italian book hunter in the 15th C, of a 1500 year old poem by Lucretius which displays a world view much more in keeping with contemporary ideas (heliocentric system, matter composed of atoms, no divine interference) than those we might expect of ancient Romans never mind medieval Italians. The book only contains excerpts and summations from Lucretius' work but even these are intriguing. In addition he tells how this discovery work and its subsequent transmission led to other developments including the work of Thomas Harriot who it transpires made discoveries that have been credited to Galileo & others.
My only gripes are that it seems to me that the original title is more accurate (How The World Became Modern) rather than How The Renaissance Began. Also there feels like some padding in this because the details of life of Bracciolini are relatively sketchy so the early part particularly seems to spend along time telling us about monasteries and monastery life..
Well worth reading though
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By P. Scrivener on 1 Nov 2013
Format: Paperback
I intermittently enjoyed this book having come across Poggio Bracciolini, the bookhunter a couple of times recently. Firstly a television programme on the 'history of the joke' and secondly in Christopher Krebs book on the influence of Tacitus' Germania. He is a figure to whose obsessive industry the world owes a great deal and he deserves to be better known. The authors main argument, which he overemphasies in the title is to show that Poggio's extraction of Lucretius's 'On The Nature of Things' from monastic oblivion was the seminal text in kick starting the Rennaisance. Aside from the fact the Rennaisance is a retrospective view of an elongated period of European history and that other cultural interactions inevitably played their part, not even the most ardent biblical scholars would claim that the Bible answered all possible line of intellectual enquiry (fanatics aside who are a class unto themselves in any culture), Greenblatt's emphasis offers an attractive case for Lucretius influence upon developing thought and its wrestle with the dominant power structure of the church.

The author is attempting to argue that the intellectual freedom that emerged from the particularly Greek but later Roman world was inherently superior to that of medieval Christian custom and practice, and that the loss of these works, the vast majority to simple neglect, acts of war and the passage of time rather than prohibition presented a purposeful restriction of intellectual development and human understanding.
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