The Swerve: Book summary and reviews of The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt

The Swerve

How the World Became Modern

By Stephen Greenblatt

The Swerve
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  • Published in USA  Sep 2011,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius - a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book - the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age - fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson. 16 pages full-color illustrations

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Awards, 2011
  • award image Pulitzer Prize for Letters, Drama and Music, 2012

Reviews

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"Starred Review. More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian." - Kirkus Reviews

"Starred Review. 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

"Starred Review. In this gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history, Harvard Shakespearean scholar Greenblatt turns his attention to the front end of the Renaissance as the origin of Western culture's foundation: the free questioning of truth." - Publishers Weekly

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Stephen Greenblatt (Ph.D. Yale) is Cogan University Professor of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. Also General Editor of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Eighth Edition, he is the author of nine books, including Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became ShakespeareHamlet in PurgatoryPracticing New HistoricismMarvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World; Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture; and The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and in Vermont.

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