BoSacks: Media Intelligence: The New Non-Obsolescence of the Written Word
A book that I read a few years ago has been popping back into and around my head lately, as I continue my pursuit of the future of reading and the future of our publishing business.
The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt, is a great read for anyone, but especially for those in our business who like words and reading (in other words, all of us!). It is partly about a group of medieval scholars who search for lost manuscripts and, more importantly, about one particular information seeker named Poggio Bracciolini, a 15th-century papal clerk and emissary. Bracciolini was an obsessive book hunter who, in his travels, found and saved the very last copy of Roman poet Lucretius's poem "On the Nature of Things" (De rerum natura). This 1st-century BC poem was meant to explain the philosophy of Epicurus, who was an even more ancient Greek philosopher (341 BC - 270 BC), to a Roman audience. Bracciolini and his friends knew of the wondrous poem's existence from references and laudatory writings from other contemporaries of Lucretius, but no one had seen the actual poem for 1,400 years.
The Swerve's thesis is that it was the reintroduction of important Epicurean ideas from Lucretius that sparked the modern age in which we live and changed the course of human thought, making possible the world as we know it today. This beautiful poem discussed some of the most dangerous ideas of the day: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in constantly new directions. One of the things Lucretius was attempting to do was to explain that everything in nature can be explained by ordinary and natural laws without the need for the intervention of divine beings.