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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Steve Went Swerving—Will You?

My friend Steve asked me to order a book for him, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, but I already had it in stock. Then another friend called for it. “It’s here, and I’ll set a copy aside for you.” Makes me feel good that I recognized from a review, before it won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, that this would be one very interesting book. Here’s what Steve (who is now recommending the book to others) has to say about it:
The Swerve is a book for book-lovers--and not just any book-lovers but lovers of used books. For me it was less about Epicurean philosophy [Epicurus is Steve’s main philosophical man], than about the humanist search for, and preservation of, ancient texts. The commitment that Poggio Bracciolini (February 11, 1380 – October 30, 1459) had to rescuing the thoughts of Cicero, Plato, Aristotle and many, many more is a remarkable story. It takes us to Florence and Rome, showing us the politics and culture of the day. We find ourselves in rooms full of monks bent over their desks, completely silent for hours, except for the scratching of their pens on parchment, as they save book after book from being lost to humanity. Poggio knew that he had made a great discovery in 1417 when found Lucretius' poem "On the Nature of Things." He had seen references to it in other works that he had copied and although he was not an Epicurean he saved the book. It's a book that, when plunked down in the middle of a Christendom, opened up a new way of seeing things, a way that Thomas Jefferson ultimately embraced. It was a real page-turner for me.

Thanks, Steve, for reviewing and sharing your enthusiasm for this new book and for saving me the trouble of writing a blog post during my son's visit! Friends and family are a great combination....

2 comments:

Gerry said...

See, now, this is why we have such a reputation for eccentricity in these parts. Steve writes that a book about, among other things, "rooms full of monks bent over their desks, completely silent for hours, except for the scratching of their pens on parchment" was a real page-turner for him--and you had it in stock. Multiple copies.

As is proper.

P. J. Grath said...

Okay, full disclosure (so as not to mislead the public): I read a review and ordered the book. Steve wanted it. I ordered another copy. It won the award. I re-ordered before the second person called, so I set a copy aside for her and have another on the way. I don't usually order multiple copies of new hardcover books unless it's an important Michigan author. But I agree we're an eccentric bunch in our biblio-excitement. One person's yawn is another's page-turner and vice versa.