- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 9 hours and 44 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Recorded Books
- Audible.com Release Date: September 29, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B005QPONF2
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Audiobook – Unabridged
|New from||Used from|
|Free with your Audible trial|
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
Would you like to tell us about a lower price?
Top customer reviews
Greenblatt takes the premise that the rediscovery of Lucretius's "One the Nature of Things" was the turning point that created modern thinking about, well, the organization of the universe. The book follows the progress of Poggio Braccioline, who rediscovered the manuscript in 1417, but also traces the origin of Lucretius's ideas and considers why both Lucretius's work and that of his predecessors nearly disappeared forever.
If you like this sort of intellectual history, you'll enjoy "The Swerve."
Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt is primarily famous as a Shakespeare scholar. But like most public intellectuals, Greenblatt’s interests run pretty polyglot. This multiple-award-winning nonfiction narrative combines history, philology, philosophy, and other topics into an impressively exuberant stew linking several stages of European history together. The shared focus: the last surviving copy of Titus Lucretius Carus’ epic philosophical poem, De Rerum Natura.
Poggio was one among several Italian thinkers known as the Humanists. Despite that term’s present association with atheism, early Humanists were fairly religious. Their founder, Petrarch, was a cleric, while many layman Humanists, like Poggio, were nevertheless employed by the church. One early Humanist was even elected Pope. In an era of Inquisitions and Ecumenical Councils, church status provided pioneering Humanists with significant protection and economic stability.
The Humanists shared a conviction that ancient Roman culture, and later the Hellenic culture that preceded Rome, represented an apex of human accomplishment. Notwithstanding their religious alliances, the Humanists sought to recover Roman history from a millennium of abandonment and willful suppression. Some, like Petrarch, doubled as creative artists, while others were content as scholars. Poggio was the latter, using his church income to subsidize a career in book hunting.
That winter’s day in 1417, Poggio used his papal connections, immense historical knowledge, and impeccable handwriting to gain access to a neglected monastic library. Greenblatt postulates it may have been Fulda, a one-time center of knowledge and education, since fallen on hard times, though he concedes that’s speculation. Wherever it was, the library yielded several irreplaceable texts, including an astronomy guide and a verse history of the Second Punic War.
It also yielded a single copy of Lucretius. This poet was known from throwaway references in Cicero and St. Jerome, but his work was considered lost. Poggio couldn’t have known the full significance of his discovery, because he had time enough to skim a few pages before entrusting it to some underpaid copyist. But he’d rediscovered the most thorough introduction to Epicurean philosophy, a complete worldview written without reliance on gods, spirits, or afterlife.
Lucretius recorded, in unrhymed Latin verse, a Greek philosophy declaring that reality, not Platonic ideals, are the starting point of conjecture. Epicureanism postulates that matter is not infinitely divisible, but comprised of atoms. These atoms combine and separate, creating the movements of reality. Everything, from gods and stars to humans and dust, shares this atomic nature. Atomism, to Lucretius, makes humans part of reality, free from fear of divine retribution.
Greenblatt isn’t so naïve as to believe Poggio’s discovery transformed Europe overnight. Indeed, Lucretius threatened worldly authorities so much, his verses circulated surreptitiously in learned circles for a generation. But Greenblatt situates this discovery amid a European culture where recovered Latin learning was already beginning to transform arts and sciences—a sort of Renaissance, if you will. Poggio was part of the metamorphosis already sweeping European Christendom.
Epicureanism’s deist (not really atheist) structures led scholars to reëxamine their approaches to thorny issues, both religious and secular. It led devout Catholics like Thomas More to give increased weight to scientific reasoning. It prompted Giordano Bruno to question received dogma, eventually exposing the Inquisition’s moral rot. European scientists began testing hypotheses, not just receiving them, while moralists began examining human consequences, not just divine mandates.
Sometimes Greenblatt speculates beyond the limits of evidence. His descriptions of medieval Christian asceticism, for instance, assert that Christians flaggelated themselves to purge the influences of Epicureanism. That seems like a reach, given how even fellow pre-Christians frequently distrusted and caricatured Epicureanism. Christians probably tortured themselves, rather, in reaction against sybaritic behaviors common among Roman persecutors. In this and some other circumstances, Greenblatt arguably oversimplifies complex historical trends.
Nevertheless, Greenblatt’s massive historical narrative, stretching from the Third Century BCE to the early American Republic, demonstrates history’s arc. While we moderns hope that progress is a universal imperative, Greenblatt shows it’s more contingent than that, with movements toward both knowledge and ignorance. History isn’t vague or impersonal, it’s driven by human activities and momentary choices, which may initiate consequences we cannot fully comprehend until years, sometimes even centuries, later.
Most recent customer reviews
Flags were raised when I read statements like "X surely would've thought Y" as the author narrates...Read more
Provides great historical context to our interpretation of ethics, art, science...Read more