The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Summary

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction • Winner of the National Book Award • New York Times Bestseller

Renowned scholar Stephen Greenblatt brings the past to vivid life in what is at once a supreme work of scholarship, a literary page-turner, and a thrilling testament to the power of the written word.
In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a dusty shelf in a remote monastery, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. He was Poggio Bracciolini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery, Lucretius’ ancient poem On the Nature of Things, had been almost entirely lost to history for more than a thousand years.

It was a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functions without the aid of gods, that religious fear is damaging to human life, that pleasure and virtue are not opposites but intertwined, and that matter is made up of very small material particles in eternal motion, randomly colliding and swerving in new directions. Its return to circulation changed the course of history. The poem’s vision would shape the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein, and—in the hands of Thomas Jefferson—leave its trace on the Declaration of Independence.

From the gardens of the ancient philosophers to the dark chambers of monastic scriptoria during the Middle Ages to the cynical, competitive court of a corrupt and dangerous pope, Greenblatt brings Poggio’s search and discovery to life in a way that deepens our understanding of the world we live in now.

“An intellectually invigorating, nonfiction version of a Dan Brown–like mystery-in-the-archives thriller.” —Boston Globe

Book Reviews


The Swerve5 star

I thoroughly enjoyed The Swerve. It is enlightening, educational and entertaining and is an easy read. I have already recommended it to friend and family and will so continue.55

One Suitcase

An enlightening and entertaining read4 star

The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 2012, and the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2011. An enlightening and entertaining read.45

Ashraf Sami

Something missing4 star

Overall I enjoyed the book it was a good read. The author was eloquent in his style and the book flowed well. The subject itself was intriguing and from the beginning it set high expectation to what was to come. I was somewhat disappointed how the story unravelled. There was no climax as such and the story slowly started to lose steam at the very end. I was also surprised that there was no reference to the Islamic scholars of the period. There was a brief mention of ibn Rushd but it didn't serve these scholars there right. For the Islamic scholars of this age were instrumental in preserving the rich culture of the pre dark age west. I45

Salem Hill

The Swerve5 star

So good I read it twice. And will come back to it again and again. Spielberg, Ron Howard or Ridley Scott should make it into a film.55

Jeff Rudell

Exquisite and Extraordinary.5 star

A painstakingly thorough investigation (that reads like a spellbinding mystery) into one of the most beautiful and influential works of ancient literature. I suggest the Gideon's begin placing a cope in every hotel room in place of the Bible.55

No Target

Lucretius ideas are compelling. iTunes must find a way to allow us to read these books on our macs!4 star

Lucretius ideas are a compelling strain of classical thought. I kind of wish I had purchased the kindle version, I can view it on all devices… a Bordeaux inspired purchase.45


Time to learn French2 star

I bought this book in the hopes of listening to it with the voice function turned on. For some reason the voice speaks in French, all of the titles and navigation are in the usual English but the text on each page is spoken in a strong French accent. I like to listen to books while I work because I have so little time, now instead of enjoying the book this week I will read little bits here and there for a month or two when I get a minute. I don't feel like I got what I was promised. Please do something about this.25


Absolutely stunning5 star

Imagining how the world could have been if only Lucretius wasn't lost and, instead of reviled, followed as the visionary he clearly was, is tantalizing and inspirational. I read it cherishing each word and part of the story. When I got to the end I went right back to the first page and read it all again. Any person who has any interest in anything should know this story.55

Doc Mattson

The Swerve3 star

I generally enjoyed it, but a little dry and too many small facts to make it a must read. I am going to try and read " On the Nature of Things" next.35

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