Tag Archives: World Lit Only By Fire

How Stephen Greenblatt talked ABSOLUTE NONSENSE about the Middle Ages in his book The Swerve


Stephen Jay GreenblattSomething very, very good just came out of L.A.–to be specific, out of the L.A. Review of Books.

EVERYONE needs to read Jim Hinch’s reflection on Stephen Greenblatt‘s award-winning screed against medieval culture’s supposed religiously motivated destruction of the human pursuit of knowledge.

I haven’t read Greenblatt’s book, but Hinch’s account, and the quotations he provides, convinces me that its portrayal of the Middle Ages is just as nonsensical and intellectually corrosive (yes, readers will be stupider about things medieval after they read it) as William Manchester‘s steaming pile of dog crap, A World Lit Only By Fire. [Yes, this is the “worst book on the medieval period I hope you’ll never read.“]

Here’s how Hinch begins. PLEASE click the link below and finish reading this excellent dismantling of an unfortunate, and unfortunately prize-winning, book:

Jim Hinch on The Swerve

Why Stephen Greenblatt is Wrong — and Why It Matters

December 1st, 2012

ONE YEAR AGO THIS MONTH, Harvard Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt stepped to the podium at the Cipriani Club in New York City to accept the National Book Award for non-fiction. Greenblatt won for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, a 356-page study of the transformative cultural power wielded by an ancient Latin poem called De Rerum Natura by a first-century BC Epicurean philosopher named Titus Lucretius Caro. Holding back tears, Greenblatt thanked, among other people, his publishers at W.W. Norton for committing to “the insane idea that they could sell a book about the discovery of an ancient poem by a Renaissance humanist to more than a handful of people.” In fact, by the time Greenblatt addressed the Cipriani Club’s gold-domed ballroom, The Swerve already had spent more than a month on the New York Times bestseller list, just as had Greenblatt’s previous book, Will in the World, a Shakespeare biography that came close to winning its own National Book Award (it was a finalist). Five months later, The Swerve won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction. The book remains a strong seller on Amazon. Continue reading