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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pulitzer prize 2012 winner; interesting read though not for specialists
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...
Published on 8 May 2012 by Devlin Mitchell

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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Charming style, manipulated content
I read this book in a day, in a state of constant frustration.
Its style is its best feauture: agile, witty, elegant, it makes it very easy to get hooked to the text, like some kind of thriller novel. I guess it is for this reason that it won the Pulitzer prize for non-fiction.
The problem is the thesis that Greenblatt wants to demonstrate, or better the way it...
Published 22 months ago by Daria


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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pulitzer prize 2012 winner; interesting read though not for specialists, 8 May 2012
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This review is from: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (Hardcover)
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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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Books, 11 Oct 2011
This review is from: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must read!, 24 July 2013
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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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On the nature of things, 7 Dec 2011
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This review is from: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (Hardcover)
The Swerve tells the story of Lucretius' epic poem "On the nature of things", the philosphy that spawned it, its loss to the world for a millenia, its rediscovery by 15th century book-hunter Poggio Bracciolini to its impact and influence on the renaissance. In telling the tale, the author takes the reader on a journey that encompasses 15th century Florence, the ruins of Herculaneum, the teachings and philosphy of Epicurus and the atomists to the intrigues of the curia - the papal court in Rome.

The re-discovery of Lucretius' poem at this time of the inquisition was of special significance denying as it does the existence of an afterlife, the existence of gods (or, more correctly, that our worships and offerings are of no consequence to them) or that the earth and humans hold any special place in the universe. Lucretius held that the universe and everything in it is constituted from atoms and that on death to atoms we return - not, as taught by the church, to eternal paradise or torment. The swerve of the title refers to what Lucretius termed clinamen - an unexpected and unpredictable movement of matter. The re-appearance of this poem after having been lost for so long, argues the author, constitutes just such a swerve.

Whilst I can't help feeling that the subtitle to this book "How the renaissance began" is a tad misleading and that the author perhaps overstates the importance of Lucretius' work in this historical period I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's a fascinating account - well written, researched and eminently readable - definitely recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable!, 4 Jan 2014
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This is a truly gripping account of the disappearance and recovery of one of the most influential texts of antiquity. Greenblatt writes with verve and insight to produce a work of brilliant scholarship and historical imagination. Greenblatt has a great ability to draw out historical characters and bring them alive and depicts the web of political and religious intrigue with clarity and vigour. It is not only a wonderful tour through literature, science and archeology but also a great narrative which I simply couldn't put down.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) Poggio and the re-discovery of Lucretius, 17 Jan 2014
By 
Roman Clodia (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
The grandiose title alone would indicate that this is a popular book rather than a serious academic one. Greenblatt is always an entertaining and fluent writer, and he communicates well to a general audience unacquainted with the work of Italian humanists in the early `Renaissance' of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This book focuses especially on Poggio Bracciolini, and his 1417 re-discovery of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura, lost since late antiquity.

So this sets the scene well on humanists' `book-hunting' with some diversions into Lucretius' Rome and the `publishing' trade in the first century BCE. The latter half of the book moves on to trace the impact that Lucretius' text has on Renaissance thinking, especially Christian humanism.

This is an enjoyable read, though it is light in places and has no footnotes to site it amongst current scholarship. It's never going to `explain' the Renaissance (as Greenblatt himself well knows and acknowledges in the early pages) or the move to modernity, but it's an entertaining account of what one classical Roman text meant to, and did for, Renaissance thinkers.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully educational, 11 Mar 2013
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When I was at school, I was taught about the Renaissance, but I never understood why it came about or indeed, the need for it. This book brilliantly answers those questions.

Steven Greenblatt tells us that one crucial root of the Renaissance was a single poem by the Greek poet, Lucretius, 'On The Nature of Things' which had set out in beautiful prose the ideas of Epicurus who had written that everything in the world is transitory, including humans. It is therefore important to live one's life to the full because there is no other. When we die, our atoms dissipate and form elsewhere.

Such ideas were dangerous in a Christian world and so the poem lay hidden for a thousands years until it was discovered in 1417 in a monastery in Germany. The book opens with a vivid scene of Poggio Bracciolini, a Florentian copyist renowned for his beautiful script and who had worked for eight different Popes, plodding on horseback through the dangerous German countryside visiting monasteries in search of antiquities. As a devout Catholic he did not agree with all the views in the poem, but still he sent it to Florence to be copied by hand. Soon, with the advent of the printing press, copies subversively reached Paris, London and Rome. Slowly leading thinkers of the time, like Jan Hus, Jerome of Prague and Geordarno Bruno began to express these ideas publicly but found themselves tried for heresy and burned at the stake.

Though the poem was not the only influence on the Renaissance, this wonderful book shows how science and philosphy from Ancient Greece and Egypt when rediscovered in the 15th century slowly permeated intellectual thought and started a secular movement that is still going on today.
Freak Out! My Life with Frank Zappa
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating account of an obscure epidsode of fifteenth century history, 13 Jan 2013
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A friend whose judgement I trusted recommended the Swerve when I asked her what I should get for my Kindle. I don't think it would have ocurred to me to get it otherwise as it sounded rather too challenging and recondite for me. At first my initial fears seemed justified - the introductory is too long and repetitive Once you get into the story of the book hunter you begin to understand what a totally different world Europe before the Rennaissance was. I knew thatin a general way,m of course, but I hadn't realized what it meant in terms of mindset. Probably the significance of the discovery of Lucretius's "De rerum..." is overplayed but Stephen Greenblatt does show how it encapsulates the change of mindset he thinks a harbinger of the modern world.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reading + Libraries + Books = Dynamic Societies, 11 Nov 2012
By 
Christopher H (Keilor, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Written at a time when managers and accountants are using economic arguments to slash libraries, is it possible to disentangle 'The Swerve' from the current international debate on the fate of libraries, old books and, perhaps, humanities faculties?

Beyond the immediate story of Poggio Bracciolini finding a lost classical poem in a remote German library, Stephen Greenblatt uses his latest book to demonstrate that dynamic societies embrace books and learning (and the imagination), whereas societies which devalue or even forbid them are on the path to stagnation and collapse.

It is a carefully, and very cleverly constructed argument based on history, with small snippets of valuable information dropped here and there as the reader follows the narrative being delivered.

By the end of the first chapter the framework for his argument is in place. It runs like this: Medieval society was rigidly hierarchical, Europe being tightly controlled by the church, which was able to rule due to a closed world-view. And this closed world-view mirrored (a) that very few people could read, (b) that access to books was near impossible, 'public' libraries having been closed/destroyed centuries earlier, (c) that few non-Christian texts were available (some were deemed sinful and banned; most classical works had been destroyed). This left Europe stagnating in an appalling state of ignorance.

The rest of Greenblatt's book shows that by firing the imagination of the individual reader, things like books, libraries and learning, especially in the humanities, will fuel dynamic societies.

My own feelings are that this is a marvellous book precisely because it so strongly shows the necessity for reading imaginative literature, for keeping libraries running, for holding on to old books, and for studying the humanities. I'll leave it up to other readers to get fired up about the exact details of Greenblatt's story.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An illuminating perspective, 15 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began (Hardcover)
I probably learned all this stuff, or a lot of it, years ago when I was in secondary school, then forgot it. I hope I can retain it this time, because the Epicurus-Lucretius-Poggio-Jefferson trail is fascinating stuff, and the underlying philosophy resonates with my strengthening atheism in a way it might not have when I was younger.

As others have said, the claim that Poggio kick-started the Renaissance sounds specious, even to my ignorant ear. Never mind: this is a rambling tale, but a good one, and it's sent me straight off to order 'The Nature of Things'.
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The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began
The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began by Stephen Greenblatt (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2011)
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