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The Swerve: How the World Became Modern Audiobook, by Stephen Greenblatt Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Stephen Greenblatt Narrator: Edoardo Ballerini Publisher: Recorded Books, LLC Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: December 2012 ISBN: 9781461846901
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (6,278 ratings) (rate this audio book)
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One of the world’s most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. 

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius—a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions. 

The copying and translation of this ancient book—the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age—fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “[The Swerve] is [a] thrilling, suspenseful tale that left this reader inspired and full of questions about the ongoing project known as human civilization.”

    Boston Globe

  • “It’s fascinating to watch Greenblatt trace the dissemination of these ideas through fifteenth-century Europe and beyond, thanks in good part to Bracciolini’s recovery of Lucretius’ poem.”


  • “Can a poem change the world? Harvard professor and bestselling Shakespeare biographer Greenblatt ably shows in this mesmerizing intellectual history that it can. A richly entertaining read about a radical ancient Roman text that shook Renaissance Europe and inspired shockingly modern ideas (like the atom) that still reverberate today.”


  • The Swerve is an intense, emotional telling of a true story, one with much at stake for all of us. And the further you read, the more astonishing it becomes. It’s a chapter in how we became what we are, how we arrived at the worldview of the present. No one can tell the whole story, but Greenblatt seizes on a crucial pivot, a moment of recovery, of transmission, as amazing as anything in fiction.”

    Philadelphia Inquirer

  • “Greenblatt makes another intellectually fetching foray into the Renaissance…More wonderfully illuminating Renaissance history from a master scholar and historian.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • “A fascinating, intelligent look at what may well be the most historically resonant book-hunt of all time.”


  • “A warm, intimate…volume of apple-cheeked popular intellectual history. Mr. Greenblatt…is a very serious and often thorny scholar…But he also writes crowd pleasers…There is abundant evidence here of what is Mr. Greenblatt’s great and rare gift as a writer: an ability, to borrow a phrase from The Swerve, to feel fully ‘the concentrated force of the buried past.’”

    New York Times

  • The Swerve is one of those brilliant works of nonfiction that’s so jam-packed with ideas and stories it literally boggles the mind.”


  • “[A] gloriously learned page-turner, both biography and intellectual history.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Pleasure may or may not be the true end of life, but for book lovers, few experiences can match the intellectual-aesthetic enjoyment delivered by a well-wrought book. In the world of serious nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt is a pleasure maker without peer.”


  • Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Nonfiction
  • A New York Times Bestseller
  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
  • A 2011 Barnes & Noble Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 Publishers Weekly Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2011 ALA Notable Book for Fiction
  • A 2011 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

Listener Reviews

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  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deb | 2/17/2014

    " Great! Now to learn more about Hypatia of Alexandria, Pierre Gassendi, Montaigne, Leonardo Bruni, Jerome of Prague, Thomas Harriot, Giordano Bruno, Jan Hus and John Wycliffe. I love when books lead you down new avenues of discovery! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ross | 2/17/2014

    " Entertaining. Sort of like a very long, good New Yorker piece. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Stacy | 2/12/2014

    " A long lost Latin poem found, shaping the future of modern thought "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jamison | 1/26/2014

    " Lucretius was obviously a genius and Poggio's book hunting quest is fascinating. This discovery, along with others, really did help Western Europe pull itself out of the dark ages. The author writes with passion and while its not a quick read, he always seems to make it interesting. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Dawn | 1/19/2014

    " I'm glad I read it but it was a dry read for me. It is interesting the correlations of one person resurrecting/finding an old text can have such a far reaching affects on current society and religious reactions to it though. So if you are one that are interested in ancient manuscripts and people who chose to search for them long ago you may enjoy it more than I. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Amy | 1/5/2014

    " Great book. It was informative and interesting, and the author's writing style made it an enjoyable read. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Dana | 12/24/2013

    " Academic Stephen Greenblatt has crafted a story of awe. How could one manuscript - On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius - so profoundly influence the development of the Western world? Uncovering that mystery and clearing delineating the result of that discovery, Greenblatt weaves into his work tangents on the most interesting things like what the Romans read in Pompeii, what monks thought of their task of copying manuscripts, and how ancient paper was made. The book is fascinating! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kenda | 12/23/2013

    " A must-read, AMAZING story and book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jason | 12/21/2013

    " So fun. An intellectual adventure. Only the dead would not love this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Denise | 9/15/2013

    " I liked the content, but historical references were numerouse. It reads more like a term paper than a novel. But good stuff. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alexandra | 6/12/2013

    " I realized very quickly that this would be a magazine article I would love, but I could just not stay interested for 300 pages. Great writing, thought-provoking etc etc etc. But too many books, too little time. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Pete | 6/11/2013

    " Fully rad, very readable. Features renaissance humanists being shitheads, bad popes, and a crazy poem about molecules and sex that freaked everybody out. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 John | 2/14/2013

    " Thomas Jefferson owned at least five Latin editions of "On the Nature of Things" Now I know why. A must read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Eamonn | 12/17/2012

    " Elegantly traces the winding path of a school of philosophy that sets religious paradigms to one side. The line runs from Epicurus, Lucretius, Florentine humanists and Montaigne, through the enlightenment to our times. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Paula | 10/20/2012

    " very interesting book about how an obscure ancient poem, On the Nature of Things, changed the course of history... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Heidi | 10/12/2012

    " I really liked this book! It was actually more about one of the great book hunters - Poggio - who located Lucretius' manuscript in a monastery. Very interesting history! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Terry | 8/1/2012

    " A well-told tale of intellectual history and survival. Lovers of the book will find this an enormously satisfying romp. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Katra | 7/23/2012

    " Background on political and social climate of ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, and early Renaissance was fascinating. For me it lost a little drive after the big discovery was finally made. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Meg | 7/16/2012

    " I feel like a dunce after reading how much others enjoyed this book :/. Holy cow, to me it was like watching paint dry - or worse, someone saying, "i had the weirdest dream..." & then espousing on it while i remained trapped @ water cooler ugh! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mike | 4/9/2012

    " So apparently my modern life owes it existence to a 2000-year old poem. Cool. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 William | 11/7/2011

    " Lucky thing those atoms swerve so we can get a bit of freedom in our lives. I think I am a closet Epicurean. This book is fun and covers lots of factual material. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Joanne | 11/5/2011

    " I loved it! Greenblatt always tells a great story at the same time as he provides fascinating facts and speculations. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 William | 10/31/2011

    " Book hunting in the 15th century -- actually a fascinating topic. Just as fascinating as the story of the rediscovery and popularity of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Julia | 10/22/2011

    " A good book (Swerve) about a book I love (De Rerum Natura by Lucretius). I learned a lot... Thank you, Poggio Bracciolini! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tom | 10/15/2011

    " Fascinating telling of the rediscovery of Lucretious Epicurian poem and its influence. Maybe reaches a bit at times. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elliot | 10/11/2011

    " Wonderfully written; Greenblatt has a novelist's gift as a story teller. Fascinating if somewhat superficial description of Epicurean philosophy, as exemplified by the Roman poet Lucretius, of early Renaissance thought and politics, and of the intersection between those things. "

About the Author

Stephen Greenblatt, PhD, is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University. General editor of The Norton Shakespeare, he is also the author of several books. He has edited seven collections of criticism, including Cultural Mobility: A Manifesto, and is a founding coeditor of the journal Representations. His honors include the MLA’s James Russell Lowell Prize for Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England, the Distinguished Humanist Award from the Mellon Foundation, the Wilbur Cross Medal from the Yale University Graduate School, the William Shakespeare Award for Classical Theatre, the Erasmus Institute Prize, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and the Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of California, Berkeley. He was president of the Modern Language Association of America and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

About the Narrator

Edoardo Ballerini, an American writer, director, film producer, and actor, has won many awards for his audiobook narration. Within only a few years after beginning his narrating career, he won several AudioFile Earphones Awards for his work and has won the prestigious Audie Award for Best Narration several times. He has narrated two hundred audiobooks, from classics to modern masters, from bestsellers to the inspirational, from Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners to spine-tingling series, and much more. In television and film, he is best known for his roles in The Sopranos, 24, I Shot Andy Warhol, Dinner Rush and Romeo Must Die. He is also trained in theater and continues to do much work on stage.