Harvard humanities professor Greenblatt shows how the discovery of the last existing manuscript of Lucretius's On the Nature of Things-a radical book proclaiming that the world manages without gods and is made of small particles in constant motion-led to the Renaissance. The swerve? Lucretius allowed for the exis-tence of free will in his atom-bound universe by theorizing that those little particles swerve randomly. I bet this will be as absorbing and informative as Green-blatt's Shakespeare study, Will in the World. With an eight-city tour.
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.