Jerome Baladad's Reviews > The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt
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Nov 17, 11


I never heard about this book before I saw it on the NYT's list, and decided soon that I have to find time to read this one on my Kindle reader. It led to my discovering of Lucretius Carus' "De Rerum Natura," which I'm still reading as of this writing ('it's not an easy poem to read, by the way'). I even have its prose version in English from my online bookstore, which I'll read one of these days. And earlier, I read about this book's winning a National Book Award (non-fiction category), which totally delighted me.

What I like most about this book has been the curious, very intriguing narrative it shared that provided the context on how books (that include the mind boggling 'De Rerum Natura', which is a looong poem at that!) dangerously go about changing people's way of thinking and subsequent behaviors. And this book has got me into thinking that elites (at least, those members of society's elites who find time to read and write, of which there are so many kinds, depending on wealth and knowledge they have access to in their respective lifetime) make use of books, in general plus among other tools, to overhaul structures in society. And I suppose this continues to this day, although not many have been aware of the intriguing process because so many take book reading for granted, plus given distractions of all kinds these days that compete on people's attention.

I got very curious in discovering from this book how the fabled Alexandrian Library went down and gone in a matter of a few generations after Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, which political development resulted to the eventual out-lawing of other forms of religions in the Western World, including those considered under 'paganism' (which was really an evolved mockery term for something considered not Christian). And I felt bad about how a very progressive female mathematician/philosopher/scientist, who happened to be pagan, was murdered by the extremist members of Christianity then. This kind of event actually happens eerily up to these days, although not in exact forms. You see and read about them from extremists among the Muslims, Jewish, Christians, Hindus, etc (not necessarily in that order---extremists are everywhere these days and they behave hysterically because they can't tolerate change, which, by the way, is among the main topics of 'De Rerum Natura').

Actually, and also based on what I've read so far about 'De Rerum Natura,' the world-changing ideas covered in this book that discussed Lucretius Carus' only known surviving work (as most of the books prior to destruction of the Alexandrian Library are now considered mostly 'remnants') are nowadays so-common. You'd wonder 'what's the fuss all about?' And why write about a book that's very difficult to read, in the first place? But note that in those years before 'De Rerum Natura' was brought to light again, those ideas were considered subversive. And espousing those ideas would even cost you your dear life as what happened to so many pioneering individuals who could not be tolerated by elites and their followers who felt their very lifestyles were being changed and threatened (which they would soon discover that they can't go against with, because that's part of nature, as 'De Rerum Natura' expounds).

Among these ideas include the mortality of soul, which 'De Rerum Natura' explains 'will die as soon as the mortal body dies.' And that there's 'no life after death.' And that religions espouse cruelty, the most disturbing example has been the practice of sacrificing one's own children for religious reasons. Also, it talked about atoms, which we learned from school or even watch on TV shows. Plus, the main purpose of life is seek pleasure, which implies, among other things, watching from a pleasurable distance how your co-humans suffer in the absurd forms of their fears and unhappy existence. Go figure the implications of these ideas out now. We've probably gone far, but we're never sure if the same is true with some groups of people. And disturbingly, we discover that a lot among our midst have yet to be reached by the light that came from 'De Rerum Nostra' (among other books) when it showed up again during Renaissance time centuries ago.
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