The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began Paperback – 6 Sep 2012
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"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)
"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)
A riveting, exemplary tale of the great cultural "swerve" known as the Renaissance.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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!
But, luckily, I am not being called upon to rule on a poorly sourced or misguided doctoral dissertation. I am just an interested amateur enjoying a bravura work of creative, romantic non-fiction. I enjoy John McPhee, but am willing to allow that there are probably lots of errors in his non-fiction books, as enjoyable as they may be. I am professionally accomplished regarding legal matters, and can say that most journalistic treatments of topics like the United States Supreme Court are incomplete and shallow at best and almost laughable at their commonest. That doesn't make them uninteresting; it just means they are not authoritative and are unlikely to withstand rigorous criticism.
That said, this book entertains, it prompts thought, it leads to little aha! moments, and it shines some light on topics with regard to which I am generally in the dark. Since I won't be relying on this text in order to perform brain surgery, and instead am reading it for pleasure, I am happy to report that it is a pleasing effort. Consistent with the author's point - perhaps that is enough.
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