The Swerve: How the World Became Modern - Stephen Greenblatt I stumbled across Lucretius. He showed up after a lengthy stint with the Greeks. After the complete works of Plato and a good chunk of Aristotle. A stint of intellectual deconstruction. Cold and methodical. Lucretius, and his On the Nature of Things, was the introduction into the Roman world through Encyclopedia Britannica’s Great Books list. A Roman who espoused the Greek Epicurean worldview. A view not at all cold nor methodical. Instead, an indulgence in meaningful pleasure.

It’s an amazing poem. Gently defiant and lucid. And a work almost lost to history.

Which is why I was thrilled to see Greenblatt’s The Swerve. A history behind the poem, its discovery and eventual spread. Much of the book is dedicated to Poggio Bracciolini. An out of work papal secretary with an obsession with finding lost works. The biography gets a bit long and seems to divert the books focus in the middle. It starts to feel like an excessively long footnote. However, it remains interesting and the story eventually swings back to On the Nature of Things and its impact. From the overtly influenced, like Montaigne, to those who hint and leave traces of it like Machiavelli, Shakespeare and Jefferson.

Greenblatt’s writing is fluid and engaging. He is able to take what could be a dry, sparse accounting and writes with the conversational tone of a pipe-smoking storyteller. At times, he is near poetic himself. A loving tribute to a classical, oddly anachronistic, work.