Browsing through a sale bin in search of summer reading, Stephen Greenblatt (Will in the World) happened upon a paperback with an extremely odd and erotic cover. Intrigued, he bought a copy of Lucretius’ De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) for 10 cents. Through the random discovery of this poem, Greenblatt recognized a worldview that mirrored his own, for the ancient poet wrote that humans should accept that we and all the things we encounter are transitory, and we should embrace the beauty and pleasure of the world.
In The Swerve, Greenblatt elegantly chronicles the history of discovery that brought Lucretius’ poem out of the musty shadows of obscurity into an early modern world ripe for his ideas. At the center of this marvelous tale stands an avid book hunter, skilled manuscript copyist and notary: Poggio Bracciolini. While Poggio’s adventures in book hunting had not turned up much of value for several years, one day in 1417 changed his life and the world forever. He pulled down a dusty copy of On the Nature of Things from its hidden place on a monastery shelf, knew what he had found and ordered his assistant to copy it. The manuscript of Lucretius’ poem had languished in the monastery for over 500 years; the monks ignored it because of its lack of religious value. In Poggio’s act of discovery, he became a midwife to modernit[Tue May 21 05:04:05 2013] enhancedContent.pl: Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\enhancedContent.pl line 249. y.
With his characteristic breathtaking prose, Greenblatt leads us on an amazing journey through a time when the world swerved in a new direction. The culture that best epitomized Lucretius’ embrace of beauty and pleasure was the Renaissance. Greenblatt illustrates the ways that this Lucretian philosophy—which extends to death and life, dissolution as well as creation—characterizes ideas as varied as Montaigne’s restless reflections on matter in motion, Cervantes’ chronicle of his mad knight and Caravaggio’s loving attention to the dirty soles of Christ’s feet. This captivating and utterly delightful narrative introduces us to the diverse nature of the Renaissance—from the history of bookmaking to the conflict between religion and science—and compels us to run out and read Lucretius’ poem.Copyright 2011 BookPage Reviews.
Leah Hager Cohen’s poignant fourth novel, The Grief of Others, follows a married couple as they try to move forward in the wake of tragedy. When their infant son dies, John and Ricky Ryrie struggle to regain their footing. Shifting into denial mode, they return to the business of daily living, which includes caring for their other two children, Biscuit, 10, and Paul, 13. As life resumes, John and Ricky find that the tragedy causes the cracks in their already fragile relationship to deepen. Picking up on the stress at home, Biscuit starts skipping school, while Paul is bullied by classmates. John and Ricky seem oblivious to these difficulties until a special visitor wakes them up to reality—and to fresh possibilities for the future. Cohen’s perceptive portrayal of a frayed family offers a multifaceted look at the grieving process. This sensitively executed novel will resonate with readers long after the final page is turned.
THE POWER OF IDEAS
Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern recounts the history and influence of one of philosophy’s most important works: Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Rediscovered about 600 years ago, the poem proposes that the universe operates without the guidance of an omnipotent being and all matter is composed of tiny particles. Copied and dispersed throughout Europe, it added to the feverish atmosphere of inquiry that characterized the Renaissance. Over the centuries, Lucretius’ poem impacted some of the world’s most esteemed minds, including Shakespeare, Darwin and Einstein. The work also affected Greenblatt when he discovered it in the 1960s, shaking up his ideas about death and the afterlife, as he recounts in the book’s delightful personal sections. A respected scholar, Greenblatt is also a stylish, accessible writer. His latest book is a testament to the power of ideas—a compelling narrative that shines new light on our intellectual roots.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
Pulitzer Prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides returns with The Marriage Plot, a tale of romance and academia set in the early 1980s. The novel’s heroine, Madeleine Hanna, is an English major at Brown University and a romantic at heart. During her senior year, she becomes emotionally entangled with two very different guys: Mitchell Grammaticus, a reliable religious-studies major, and volatile Leonard Bankhead, an unpredictable but gifted student. Neither one is Madeleine’s ideal match, but she eventually marries Leonard, while Mitchell embarks on a soul-searching journey to Calcutta. Madeleine’s happily-ever-after is disrupted when Mitchell suddenly reappears in her life, his affection for her still alive. Eugenides’ novel charms even as it poses important questions about identity, maturity and the nature of relationships.
Greenblatt (Humanities/Harvard Univ.;ÃÂ Shakespeare's Freedom,ÃÂ 2010, etc.) makes another intellectually fetching foray into the Renaissance—with digressions into antiquity and the recent past—in search of a root of modernity.
More than 2,000 years ago, Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things, which spoke of such things as the atomic structure of all that exists, of natural selection, the denial of an afterlife, the inherent sexuality of the universe, the cruelty of religion and the highest goal of human life being the enhancement of pleasure. It was a dangerous book and wildly at odds with the powers that be through many a time period. That Greenblatt came across this book while in graduate school is a wonder, for it had been scourged, scorned or simply fallen from fashion from the start, making fugitive reappearances when the time was ripe, but more likely to fall prey to censorship and the bookworm, literally eaten to dust. In the 15th century, along came Poggio Bracciolini— humanist, lover of antiquity, former papal secretary, roving hunter of books—and the hub of Greenblatt's tale. He found the book, perhaps the last copy, in a monastery library, liked what he saw (even if he never cottoned to its philosophy) and had the book copied; thankfully, history was preserved. Greenblatt's brilliantly ushers readers into this world, which is at once recognizable and wholly foreign. He has an evocative hand with description and a liquid way of introducing supporting players who soon become principals: Democritus, Epicurius, scribe monks, Thomas More, Giordano Bruno, Montaigne and Darwin, to name just a few.
More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian.
ÃÂCopyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Harvard humanities professor Greenblatt shows how the discovery of the last existing manuscript of Lucretius's On the Nature of Things--a radical book proclaiming that the world manages without gods and is made of small particles in constant motion--led to the Renaissance. The swerve? Lucretius allowed for the existence of free will in his atom-bound universe by theorizing that those little particles swerve randomly. I bet this will be as absorbing and informative as Greenblatt's Shakespeare study, Will in the World. With an eight-city tour.[Page 72]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this outstandingly constructed assessment of the birth of philosophical modernity, renowned Shakespeare scholar Greenblatt (Cogan University Professor of English & American Literature & Language, Harvard; Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare) deftly transports readers to the dawn of the Renaissance, when in 1417 bibliophile Poggio Bracciolini uncovered the Roman poet and philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus's Epicurean work, On the Nature of Things, in the dusty confines of a German monastery. After lying dormant for centuries, Lucretius's "atomist" philosophy reemerged, promoting the joys of this world over the punishments and rewards of the next, gradually conquering humanist circles and influencing such luminaries as More, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Newton. At the heart of Lucretius's Latin verse lies the core argument that by understanding the world around us, abandoning superstitious delusions, and coming to grips with humanity's insignificance, we begin to take ownership of our lives and set out on the pursuit of happiness. VERDICT Greenblatt's masterful account transcends Poggio's significant discovery to encompass a diversity of topics including the Roman book trade, Renaissance Florence, and the Catholic Church's attempts to deal with heresy and schism. Students and general readers from across the humanities will find this enthralling account irresistible. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/11.]--Brian Odom Pelham P.L., AL[Page 98]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
In this gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history, Harvard Shakespearean scholar Greenblatt (Will in the World) turns his attention to the front end of the Renaissance as the origin of Western culture's foundation: the free questioning of truth. It hinges on the recovery of an ancient philosophical Latin text that had been neglected for a thousand years. In the winter of 1417 Italian oddball humanist, smutty humorist, and apostolic secretary Poggio Bracciolini stumbled on Lucretius' De rerum natura. In an obscure monastery in southern Germany lay the recovery of a philosophy free of superstition and dogma. Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things" harked back to the mostly lost works of Greek philosophers known as atomists. Lucretius himself was essentially an Epicurean who saw the restrained seeking of pleasure as the highest good. Poggio's chance finding lay what Greenblatt, following Lucretius himself, terms a historic swerve of massive proportions, propagated by such seminal and often heretical truth tellers as Machiavelli, Giordano Bruno, and Montaigne. We even learn the history of the bookworm--a real entity and one of the enemies of ancient written-cultural transmission. Nearly 70 pages of notes and bibliography do nothing to spoil the fun of Greenblatt's marvelous tale. 16 pages of color illus. (Sept. 19)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC