It takes an intellectual scholar with the
knowledge, depth and curiosity of Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt
to take a tale ancient and unknown and turn it into a compelling saga.
Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, winner of
the 2011 National Book Award for non-fiction, tells the fascinating
story of how an obscure and nearly lost-forever poem by an ancient
scribe named Lucretius forever changed the way we think about the world
and our place in it. Greenblatt reveals how the last remaining copy of
this dusty, old manuscript, titled “On The Nature Of Things,” was
rescued by a man named Poggio (and you thought only Rock stars used one
name) in the 15th Century and brought about a literal and literary
“swerve” in thinking.
After the dust had settled, this short poem became
the inspiration for generations of artists and scientists like
Botticelli, da Vinci and Galileo.
Greenblatt’s passion for this primitive
poem comes across on every single page of the book. He tells us that, as
a young man, he stumbled across the poem by Lucretius in a used
bookstore for the bargain price of 10 cents. As Greenblatt recounts,
Lucretius was the first to counter that humans should “conquer their
fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all things they
encounter are transitory and embrace the beauty and pleasure of the
world.” These ideas, the author notes, may seem common today, but were
heretical both at the time they were written and a thousand years later
when the poem was rescued.
Greenblatt tells his story in the manner
of a detective’s tale, which keeps things fascinating through the final
page. The pleasure is reading the details of the discovery and how the
work of just a few individuals can change the world. Grade: A+