At the Sun-Gazette, staff members tend to read. A lot. So we thought we would share what we're reading and let you know how they fare.
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Reviewer: David Bross of Williamsport.
Title: "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern" by Stephen Greenblatt.
Synopsis: "The Swerve" is the biography of a man, Poggio Bracciolini, and the history of a poem, "On The Nature of Things."
Poggio began adult life as a scribe, the 15th century version of a notary public.
It was a useful, but not unique, position, in what is now Italy.
However, his intelligence, charm, and exceptional penmanship allowed him to rise to the post of Apostolic Secretary for the subsequently deposed Pope John XXIII.
That was quite an achievement for a person of common birth.
But, it was his avocation as a book collector that has given Poggio a place in history.
As a collector of rare manuscripts, Poggio spent much free time, and money, searching for them in the monastic libraries of Europe.
In particular, he was looking for manuscripts containing the works of ancient Greek philosophers.
In January of 1417, he found a manuscript of the poem, "On The Nature of Things."
Written by Titus Lucretius Carus around 50 BC, "On The Nature of Things" describes a school of thought founded by Epicurus around 300 BC.
Today, an Epicurean is defined as one who loves good food, good wine, and good times. Not so in ancient Greece.
The pleasure that Epicurus, and his disciples, sought was the joy that comes from being free from superstition, acquiring knowledge and having a profound sense of awe for the Universe.
According to Greenblatt, our current definition was created by the medieval Church to denigrate any ancient Greek philosophers whose ideas couldn't be assimilated into Christianity.
The poem's resurfacing, and subsequent circulation throughout change or discovery, and this poem was part of a growing movement that culminated in a very significant cultural change, the Renaissance.
As the book continues, the author addresses a number of changes and controversies that the poem and the Renaissance brought to Western Civilization.
Stats: Published by W.W. Norton & Co. in 2011, 263 pages, $26.95.
What I thought: "The Swerve" gives great insight into the past.
Unfortunately, that insight includes exposing a sad history of executing thoughtful people in an attempt to kill their ideas.
But, Greenblatt also reveals how so many of the ideas (atomic structure and evolution, for example) that influence our modern world, had their origins thousands of years ago.
That is a very humbling thought.
It also makes me wonder how different the world would be today if the geniuses of the past, and their ideas, had been allowed to flourish unimpeded by the fear of change.
What I'm reading next: "A Play of Heresy" by Margaret Frazer.