Customer Reviews for

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

Average Rating 4.5
( 94 )
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5 Star

(54)

4 Star

(19)

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(16)

2 Star

(3)

1 Star

(2)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

An important book about the power of books...

This is a great short history about a long lost Roman poem that encompassed the very humanistic ideas that brought Western Europe out of the intellectual morass of Christendom and into the Renaissance and Reformation. I find great comfort reading about the importance o...
This is a great short history about a long lost Roman poem that encompassed the very humanistic ideas that brought Western Europe out of the intellectual morass of Christendom and into the Renaissance and Reformation. I find great comfort reading about the importance of "a book" and the humanities that have shaped so much of our society despite the sad state of the humanities within our education system and the slow sad disappearance of the paper book. The hero of Stephen Greenblatt's work would no doubt be unsettled by the anti-intellectualism prevalent in the modern West and our complete obsession with cheap stimuli. Turn off the TV. Put the cell phone away. Find a nice quiet place to read and enjoy this wonderful book.

posted by HarryVane on December 12, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

Not quite as advertised

The publisher's blurb calls this a "riveting" account of great cultural change and a "thrilling tale of discovery." While interesting, it was hardly riveting or thrilling. Rather, it was a matter-of-fact and sometimes pedantic account of the rediscovery of Lucretius' "O...
The publisher's blurb calls this a "riveting" account of great cultural change and a "thrilling tale of discovery." While interesting, it was hardly riveting or thrilling. Rather, it was a matter-of-fact and sometimes pedantic account of the rediscovery of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things." The author makes a less than compelling case for one of his own favorite poems changing the course of Western cultural history. I don't think it moved others as much as it did him. An interesting read, but not compelling.

posted by jobriant on October 27, 2011

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  • Posted December 12, 2011

    An important book about the power of books...

    This is a great short history about a long lost Roman poem that encompassed the very humanistic ideas that brought Western Europe out of the intellectual morass of Christendom and into the Renaissance and Reformation. I find great comfort reading about the importance of "a book" and the humanities that have shaped so much of our society despite the sad state of the humanities within our education system and the slow sad disappearance of the paper book. The hero of Stephen Greenblatt's work would no doubt be unsettled by the anti-intellectualism prevalent in the modern West and our complete obsession with cheap stimuli. Turn off the TV. Put the cell phone away. Find a nice quiet place to read and enjoy this wonderful book.

    12 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Mixed

    I just finished "The Swerve" and must say I am a bit perplexed.

    In the Preface, the author describes the reasons for his deep emotional attachment to "On the Nature of Things" by Lucretius. My sense is that he let this emotional attachment get the better of him.

    On page 68 (of the e-book) he states that "On the Nature of Things" is the work of a disciple who is transmitting ideas that had been developed centuries earlier. Epicurus, Lucretia's philosophical messiah, ......". Throughout the book, more reference seems to be made to Epicurus than Lucretius by the people that the author wants to propose as having been influenced by Lucretius. The final statement of the book, as if to emphasize how much the world has been changed by Lucretius is Thomas Jefferson's statement that he is an Epicuran.

    So this reader is left with the question of why the focus on Lucretius? The answer to me can only be that the author found a good story in the discovery of a copy of the manuscript by a papal secretary, Poggio (and not the only one as seems to be alleged in the beginning - another was later found). And a good story it is, weaving us through the inner working of monasteries, the copying of manuscripts, papal intrigue, "book hunters", and the preservation of "pagan" manuscripts in Europe. What the author failed to do for this reader is convince me that "On the Nature of Things" caused, much less was significant to, the Renaissance. Much is made of the work describing atoms, as was described previously by Leuccippus and Democritus, and that life's ultimate goal is pleasure and the avoidance of pain, Epicurus' central tenet, as being supremely influential in moving the(western)world forward in its thinking, and some of these thoughts, over 2,000 years old are quite remarkable in their prescience, but by no means unique to Lucretius. But if these thoughts were so influential in moving the Renaissance forward did some of the clearly wrong claims in "On the Nature of Things" not hinder its development? This is not addressed.

    Other critics have complained of its seeming anti-Catholic tone, and as a recovering Catholic, I sympathize with you. But I didn't find anything in the book unfair to the Catholic church of the time.

    I found the book entertaining and enlightening in many respects, so 4 stars still.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 27, 2011

    Not quite as advertised

    The publisher's blurb calls this a "riveting" account of great cultural change and a "thrilling tale of discovery." While interesting, it was hardly riveting or thrilling. Rather, it was a matter-of-fact and sometimes pedantic account of the rediscovery of Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things." The author makes a less than compelling case for one of his own favorite poems changing the course of Western cultural history. I don't think it moved others as much as it did him. An interesting read, but not compelling.

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 23, 2011

    Excellent book on the history of an idea!

    The Swerve traces the discovery of Lucretius's "On Nature" backward and forward (all the way to Thomas Jefferson) through the lives and work of the discoverer and his contemporaries. Along the way, it offers a rich exploration of the early Renaissance, Catholic Church politics, reaching back as well to Roman life and thought and its Hellenic influences. Very engagingly written (end-noted for those who like that), with lots of intimate details to spice up the theological and philosophical explication.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    An eye opening and entertaining book.

    Even if you didn't sleep thru Western History in college this book will inform and entertain. The author weaves a tale of how a relatively unknown Florentine scholar rescues a literary work by Lucretius that inspired many more Renassaince works. Lucretius's poem has amazingly modern ideas but were it not for a random "swerve" of chance it could have been lost forever, and perhaps a seminal spark out of the dark ages. This book will make you laugh and make you think.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2011

    The Swerve: How the World Became Modern - Nook Book

    An excellent short history of literary tolerance (or intolerance) wrapped within the story of a Fourteenth Century book hunter. Should be a must read so that we avoid banning books because we disagree with its content.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2012

    A Must Read

    I had a hard time tearing myself away from The Swerve. While I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative about the discovery and recovery of the lost manuscript, which adroitly provides insight into the intellectual, religious and physical worlds of the late Middle Ages, the best part is the thoughtful and concise exposition of Epicureanism. I suspect this cogent 2500 year old rational humanist philosophy of Metaphysics and Ethics has long been suppressed or misrepresented by various religious establishments, and becoming familiar with it is like inhaling a breath of fresh air.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2013

    I started this novel with great reluctance - an obscure book hun

    I started this novel with great reluctance - an obscure book hunter in the 1400s, searching for a poem I'd not heard of by an ancient author whose name I did not recognize. However, I found it to be surprisingly, and enjoyably, readable. The history, politics, and religion of the time are lucidly described. The education and life of the book hunter give a strong sense of his character (and who can dislike a guy named Poggio?). The core themes of the poem are outlined with the correct amount of detail, and the net result is an interesting, entertaining story of how modern secular precepts emerged from the intolerant theocratic European societies of the Middle Ages. One might argue with the primacy the author claims for the role of the poem, but the journey he takes the reader on illustrates how many of our modern social ideals evolved.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2012

    Astounding

    Beautifully written account of the discovery and influence of an ancient Greek scroll "On the Nature of Things". The astounding part is how its influence spread throughout Renaissance europe, and how the boundaries between thinkers even then were small and porous. Once the idea is introduced, tracing through the intellectual, physical, and spiritual history of western thought truly illustrates a swerve away from superstition toward the modern world.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2014

    To Quench the Intellect, The Swerve Succeeds Written by Stephen

    To Quench the Intellect, The Swerve Succeeds

    Written by Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, captures the story of Poggio Bracciolini, an avid book hunter and his chance discovery that influenced the creation of the modern world. He saves the last copy of Roman philosopher Titus Lucretius’s, On the Nature of Things. Within this poem are the ideas that changed human thought and inspired some of the most impactful individuals of the millennial. 
    Greenblatt follows Poggio’s discovery, tracing its impact throughout history. He makes sure to include context and clarity, making the story easier to understand. I particularly liked the inclusion of the historical background of books beginning with the Roman Empire and Paganism. He illustrates the ancient world stating, “A fate no doubt preferable to being thrown to the lions, laughter in the ancient world nonetheless had very sharp teeth.” 
    It is a mesmerizing and rich book, maintaining a satisfying combination of history and intrigue. The language is gratifying, “A comparably capacious embrace of beauty and pleasure – an embrace that somehow extends to death as well as life, to dissolution as well as creation…” 
    In his writing, Greenblatt causes the reader to reconsider the importance of books and to view life with a more philosophical approach. We are reminded of the value of ancient knowledge and preservation of intellect when he says, “through reading literature we can make ghosts speak to us, and we can speak back to them.”  I highly recommend The Swerve to book lovers or historians, who are interested in reading a challenging novel that will recalibrate your thinking and leave you contemplating the war of beliefs. 
    Greenblatt’s passion is clearly evident; he is an exceptional writer and feels strongly about the importance of these ancient manuscripts.  Even in simple statements such as, “Poems are difficult to silence,” or “I began with the desire to speak with the dead,” he makes an impression. It is enlightening and eye opening. This book will most definitely make you think. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 10, 2013

    Ignore the title - an excellent work!

    There are been numerous works of historical non-fiction, especially in recent times, that attempt to pinpoint some pivotal event and/or person and attribute to that event or person great significance. These are often fascinating tales as much for the insight they might give us into the course of history as they are often tales of intrigue, mystery, luck and persistence.

    Stephen Greenblatt's The Serve is one such book and an outstanding example of the genre. It tells the story of one Titus Lucretius Carus, a first-century BC (55 to 99 BC) Roman philosopher and disciple of Epicurus whose single surviving work of poetry, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) languished in obscurity for nearly a millennium and a half, before it was rediscovered and broadcast around Europe in the 15th century by a equally obscure (at least these days) former papal secretary, Poggio Bracciolini.

    Poggio sat right at the apex of temporal and spiritual power while in Rome, but had been cut loose and out of a job after Pope John XXIII was deposed (the Pope's number was recycled 500 years later). In the spirit of the era, he decided to spend his time north of the Alps hunting for ancient Greek and Roman texts. Poggio was not only very good at library hunting and Latin grammar, his was one of the best hand-writing in Europe during these pre-printing-press times. He was, therefore, well suited to both understand what he found, copy it, and, with his connections among the intelligentsia of the times, distribute it. Poggio came across De Rerum Natura quite by chance in a Benedictine library. He immediately realized the significance of the message that the manuscript contained within its exquisite poetry - not just "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die", but, much more, that the very substance of your soulless being (atoms) will disperse and recombine (swerve) in the future as it has throughout the infinity of time. Lucretius' dangerous and heretical message eventually earned it a prominent place on the Index, but not until copies had become fairly widespread both because of its philosophical message and on account of its outstanding Latin grammar.
    The book ably justifies its enigmatic title, but not its sub-title.

    On The Nature of Things was undoubtedly a component in the development of modern chemistry and physics, and its rejection of everything supernatural likely impacted the course of philosophy right up to the present time. But atomic theory and the rest had a wider intellectual base than just this poem which the author fails to explore in depth. Greenblatt's story of the discovery of De Rerum Natura is excellent, but his follow up on the later impact comes across as a breathless afterthought.

    The Swerve is thoroughly researched with nearly 50 pages of notes, 25-plus page bibliography, index and illustrations.

    Richard R. Pardi Environmental Science William Paterson University

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 2012

    A great history of modern (and, as it turns out, not so modern)

    A great history of modern (and, as it turns out, not so modern) thought.  The book traces the resurgence of classical Greek and Roman thought through the Renaissance and Reformation.  While that may sound boring, the author tells it an interesting and compelling way that makes it well worth the read.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2012

    recommend

    ¿The Swerve¿ by Stephen Greenblatt. A historical epic featuring a true man of the emerging renaissance, Poggio Bracciolini, chief secretary to several popes and a member of the small Italian humanist intelligentsia movement who were seeking to recover the wisdom of the ancients in remote monasteries in the form of the copies of pagan manuscripts which had been lost with the fall of the Roman Empire and the collapse of Europe into the dark ages. In 1417, Poggio found in a Benedictine monastery near Constance a copy of a copy¿ of Lucretius¿s poem On the Nature of Things. This Latin poem, depicting Epicurus¿s philosophy of the atomic basis of matter, the inconsequence of men to gods if there were any, the impossibility of an afterlife, and the conclusion that pleasure was the highest human aim, spread with the newly found poem to infect intellectual thought in Europe and led to influence the modern western world. Isaac Newton echoed Lucretius atomistic ideas in his Optiks (1718) ¿While the Particles continue entire, they may compose Bodies of one and the same Nature and Texture in all Ages, but should they wear away or break into pieces, the Nature of things depending on them would be changed¿. Thomas Jefferson owned fives copies of Lucretius¿s poem, and Epicurus¿ philosophy found itself into ¿the pursuit of Happiness¿ phrase in the American Declaration of Independence. Interesting insights about the relative level of intellectual life in Italy, England and Germany; what has happened since to Italy?

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Fascinating

    An important contribution. How do texts survive? Physically? Even politically? How do unpopular ideas survive?

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    The best non-fiction book I have ever read!

    A brilliant book. History, philosophy, religion, and life.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    To trent

    Go to res 6

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2013

    Mackenzie

    Sorry i have not been on im very busy ill try to talk at night if i can but sorry not day
    Best wishes ~Mackenzie

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2013

    Som one plz clike this urgent!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I am so bored right now. You you couod fix that by chating with me :D PPPPPPPPPPPPPPLLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEAAAAAAASSSSSSEEEEEEE!!!!!!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2013

    Elijah to trent

    U need to go to zizi res 3 its important

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2013

    Eileen to trent

    Hey*i say shyly*

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