The Swerve is one of those brilliant works of non-fiction that's so jam-packed with ideas and stories it literally boggles the mind. But throughout this profusion of riches, it seems to me, a moral emerges: something about the fragility of cultural inheritance and how it needs to be consciously safeguarded. Greenblatt, of course, doesn't preach, but, instead, as a master storyteller, he transports his readers deep into the ancient and late medieval past; he makes us shiver at his recreation of that crucial moment in a German monastery when modern civilization, as we've come to know it, depended on a swerve of the Poggio's grasping fingers.
The Swerve...brings us Mr. Greenblatt in his more cordial mode. He wears his enormous erudition lightly, so lightly that most readers will forgive him for talking, at times, a bit down to them. This book is well-brewed coffee with plenty of milk and sugar stirred in ... Approaching Lucretius through Bracciolini was an ingenious idea. It allows Mr. Greenblatt to take some worthwhile detours ... The details that Mr. Greenblatt supplies throughout The Swerve are tangy and exact ... This book’s pumping heart is Mr. Greenblatt’s complicated reckoning with Lucretius’ masterpiece ... It’s possible to admire Mr. Greenblatt’s book while wishing it contained more of the boldness and weirdness he admires in Lucretius. Mr. Greenblatt’s prose, charted on a Geiger counter, would register mostly a state-of-the-art air-conditioner’s steady hum. I found myself longing for a few more unsettling spikes of intellect and feeling. You won’t be bored by The Swerve; neither will you be on the edge of your seat.
The Swerve...is a work that a journalist or a hard-working amateur might have produced, a sprawling paraphrase of other people’s research ... this is a book that feels a little mushy and over-sweetened, in the way of so much popular history with an eye on the bestseller list ... To those who have never read much classical literature or know little about the Renaissance, The Swerve may well seem fresh, even though it trots out one historical golden oldie after another ... a sense of the scattershot, of elegant padding, remains ... he takes every possible opportunity to meander away from his thesis about 'how the world became modern' ... By no means a bad book, The Swerve simply sets its intellectual bar too low, complacently relying on commonplaces in its historical sections and never engaging in an imaginative or idiosyncratic way with Lucretius’s great poem as a work of art.
Simply put, The Swerve did not deserve the awards it received because it is filled with factual inaccuracies and founded upon a view of history not shared by serious scholars of the periods Greenblatt studies ... The Swerve, in fact, is two books, one deserving of an award, the other not. The first book is an engaging literary detective story about an intrepid Florentine bibliophile named Poggio Braccionlini ... brimming with vivid evocations of Renaissance papal court machinations and a fascinating exploration of Lucretius’s influence on luminaries ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci, to Galileo, to Thomas Jefferson, is wonderful. The second Swerve is an anti-religious polemic ... Greenblatt’s caricatured Middle Ages might have passed muster with Enlightenment-era historians. Present-day scholarship, especially the findings of archeologists and specialists in church and social history, tells a vastly more complicated, interesting and indeterminate story ... it is simply untrue to assert that classical culture was ever lost, ignored or suppressed during the Middle Ages ... The Swerve claimed for itself, and received, huge moral and cultural authority it simply didn’t earn.
The story is told with all Greenblatt's style and panache. He brings the silent labors of a medieval scriptorium to life ... But is it right to identify the recovery of Lucretius with the beginning of the renaissance? ... the story that the renaissance suddenly began with a great rediscovery of the pagan past does not work so well in relation to other classical authors ... As well as sharing the humanists' passion for antiquity, Greenblatt shares their prejudice against medieval Christianity, which he portrays with the vividness but also the crudity of a cartoon ... The Swerve is, though, a dazzling retelling of the old humanist myth of the heroic liberation of classical learning from centuries of monastic darkness ... This book makes that story into a great read, but it cannot make it entirely true.
In this gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history, Harvard Shakespearean scholar Greenblatt...turns his attention to the front end of the Renaissance as the origin of Western culture's foundation ... Nearly 70 pages of notes and bibliography do nothing to spoil the fun of Greenblatt's marvelous tale.
Greenblatt’s [book] brilliantly ushers readers into this world, which is at once recognizable and wholly foreign. He has an evocative hand with description and a liquid way of introducing supporting players who soon become principals: Democritus, Epicurius, scribe monks, Thomas More, Giordano Bruno, Montaigne and Darwin, to name just a few. More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian.