The Swerve (2011): Stephen Greenblatt


How the Renaissance began

The winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction, this book was recommended to me during our Sicily trip a year ago, in the course of a rather splendid dinner-table conversation. It tells the story of Poggio Bracciolini, an Italian humanist who worked at the papal curia and who, during the upheavals after the Council of Constance, sought to distract himself by going book-hunting in the monasteries of Germany. Poggio dreamed of finding previously unknown classical texts in these monasteries, preserved by chance through years of copying as part of the monastic discipline. He and his fellow humanists had already uncovered fragments of letters and treatises, but the discovery that Poggio would make in 1417 would come to have a powerful impact on the very roots of Western philosophy: the full text of De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) by Lucretius.

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