Just finished The Swerve

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt may have a bad title, but it’s very entertaining. It’s about the rediscovery in 1417 of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things by an Italian book hunter by the name of Poggio Bracciolini. Greenblatt’s assertion is that the Epicurean philosophy espoused by Lucretius was the jolt Western Civilization needed to shake off the Middle Ages and “become modern.”

It will remind many of The Name of the Rose, but this is a true story. Greenblatt seamlessly weaves together pieces of history spanning 2000 years. It’s breathtaking how prescient Lucretius’s poem is, anticipating such scientific discoveries as evolution and atomic theory. It’s also fun to see how subversive those ancient ideas were to Medieval European institutions. Mostly The Swerve is an ode to the power of the human mind and the value of physical books.