"When Poggio Bracciolini, an early 15th century papal secretary and professional book hunter, stumbled across the only surviving copy of Lucretius’ epic poem On the Nature of Things in a German monastery he re-discovered a school of thought that had been suppressed for centuries. The poem advanced shocking ideas such as the Universe is made up of tiny particles called atoms, there are no gods, and that happiness and pleasure are not sins. As the work slowly circulated through the learned of the 15th century, and seeped into the collective knowledge of the day, it shifted the course of thought and history to help create the world we know today."
“[A] nonfiction wonder . . . part adventure tale, part enthralling history of ideas.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR
One of the world's most celebrated scholars, Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it.
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.