June 2012 Book of the Month: Swerve

I know. It’s May 22, not June. But I just finished The Swerve (Stephen Greenblatt – Norton) yesterday, and I wanted to share.

It’s not exactly a new book: it was published last year, but it is still fairly topical because Stephen Greenblatt just won a Pulitzer for it.

To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t heard of it before the little old lady in Nicholas Hoare placed it in my hands and told me I should read it. Of course, I’d heard of Lucretius and his epic poem On The Nature of Things. I hadn’t read it though (still haven’t to be honest, but I now have a copy on my iPhone, and in iBooks). But I’d never heard of Poggio Bracciolini, the renaissance humanist-scholar who uncovered the poem in a German monastery in 1417. Still less did I realize the impact the poem’s content had on Western thought. It would be overstating it a tad to say it sparked the renaissance, but it’s not an exaggeration to say the work’s mental landscape was staggering, and sowed the seeds of, on the one hand, quantum physics and atomic theory, and on the other of the world view of evolutionary science. Set against tales of papal intrigue in the courts of successive popes, Greenblatt has fashioned a fascinating and enlightening story out of a dusty, rotten old manuscript. It’s very well done.

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