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On the Nature of the Universe (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1994

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Rev Sub edition (December 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140446109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140446104
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,024 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Paul Laub on April 6, 2011
Format: Paperback
Confusingly, Penguin has published two versions of On the Nature
of the Universe by Lucretius, each of them translated by Ronald
Latham. The (out of print) 1951 version also includes an
Introduction by Latham. The 1994 version (currently in print and
for sale here) replaces Latham's introduction with one by John
Godwin.

Latham's introduction is impressive and makes the 1951 version
the one to read. (The front cover of that edition features a
portrait of an ordinary Roman woman from a fresco.) In twelve and
a half pages, Latham concisely introduces Lucretius, his life and
times, outlines the philosophy of Epicurus, and addresses the
difficulties he faced as translator. Penguin classics often
feature an introduction, and Latham's is one of the best I have
read. Why did Penguin replace it?

From what I can read via amazon's Look Inside feature, the Godwin
introduction in the current edition appears adequate. And Godwin
does offer a detailed bibliography absent in the 1951 edition.
However, there are two additional reasons to prefer the 1951
edition. First, both Latham and Godwin offer a synopsis of the
work, yet Latham's is more detailed and useful. Likewise, both
versions offer an index, but Latham's is longer and far more
comprehensive.
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39 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Y. Zemmel on February 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
Having undertaken the task of translating large chunks of De Rerum Natura, I was directed to this translation of the text in order to help me fill in the gaps present in the Latin selections. (And this means that I have not only translated much of the text myself, but have been forced to submit COMMENTARY on my understanding of Lucretius.) This translation by Latham fulfils my needs well and is good on several levels: it is close to the literal (and very raw) translation from the original Latin text, while at the same time providing the reader with an...aura of poetic mastery present in Lucretius' writing. This text can only seem boring when compared to contemporary "fluff"--in truth, it is a masterful translation of the most exhilarating work, one that deals not only with the issue of Death, but with the difficulty of Existence. Read for yourself!
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Nels Lindberg on December 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Lucretius's arguments for his atomic theory and the "swerve" are paragons of lucidity. It's a good thing I had physics in school, I was very nearly converted anyway. The section dealing with love is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading elegant ideas beautifully expressed, or beautiful ideas elegantly expressed.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on December 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
Lucretius's book is an important text in the history of mankind.

Its basic philosophy is Epicureanism: `If a man would guide his life by true philosophy, he will find ample riches in a modest livelihood enjoyed with a tranquil mind', because `greed and lust of power make man unhappy. The kings were killed!'

Lucretius adopts the method of logical deduction in his scientific research (e.g., why a centaur cannot exist).

He is a perfect materialist, even a physicalist. For him, there was never a body/mind problem: `the mind, which we often call the intellect, is part of man, no less than hand or foot or eyes.' Mind and spirit are both composed of matter only. `Vain is the suggestion that the spirit is immortal.'

He was even a proto-Darwinist: `monstrous and misshapen births were created. Nature debarred them from increase', and an anti-creationist (see title).

He was fiercely against religion, which he called pure superstition: `Iphigenia, a sinless victim to a sinful rite. Such are the heights of wickedness to which men are driven by superstition.'

`The universe was certainly not created for us by divine power. It is so full of imperfections. Why do changing seasons bring pestilence?'

Piety is pure Phariseism: `This is not piety, this kowtowing and prostration on the ground. For all his prayers, the tornado does not relax.'

He is a fine psychologist: `Look at man in the midst of doubt and danger and you will learn in his hour of adversity what he really is. The mask is torn off.'

His forceful painting of the Athenian plague in 430 B.C. is worth a Boccaccio.

Of course, this book is partly very naïve. But it constitutes a milestone in Western philosophy, as it is the product of totally independent, religion-free speculation, written by a superb free mind.

A must read for all historians of science and philosophy, and lovers of classical literature.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book was a real eye-opener. I went into it expecting to read something ancient, but instead found something that sounded suspiciously modern. It was like reading an ancient prophecy of the worldview of many of today's scientists.
This makes me wonder. If the view that all things are the unplanned results of blind forces is a discovery of modern science, then why were people like Lucretius proclaiming it 2000 years ago? Far from making Lucretius prophetic, this makes some of modern science seem like a type of Epicureanism. It would be interesting to know how much of science's view of the nature of the universe owes its origin to philosophy as opposed to observation.
I appreciate Penguin Classics for putting out a very easy and readable prose version of Lucretius's poem. Unlike some of the other reviewers of this version, I recommend it highly. It's the right choice for anyone who's interested in getting to what Lucretius said without having to wade through a bunch of poetry to do it.
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