The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt 
submitted by Caren

If you at all enjoy history and the play of ideas across centuries, you will enjoy The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which was a National Book Award winner. The author, Stephen Greenblatt focuses on an ancient poem (De Rerum Natura by Lucretius) nearly lost in the "teeth of time" (as he so colorfully puts it). The poem was plucked from its obscurity in a German monastery library by an early fifteenth century Italian book hunter, Poggio Bracciolini.



I have read the criticism that the subtitle, "How the World Became Modern", is a bit of an overstatement. Perhaps, but the author is using this specific example as representative of the people and thoughts that shimmered across the centuries. In my mind, I could visualize a pebble tossed out into time, with concentric circles of influence spreading further and further. It is the way in which the author follows these silvery trails that is engrossing. I thought it was interesting that these humanist scholars were so well-versed in the existing ancient literature that they could follow clues about works that had once been widely read, but had disappeared from known literature.

In the Middle Ages, monasteries were the repositories for literature. Their books were copied by hand and stored. A person searching these libraries, though, had to have some idea of what he was seeing. He also had to have some hunch about the best places to search across Europe. The fact that this particular poem, with its subversive ideas, was found by this particular person is just amazing.

Greenblatt sets the stage by introducing Poggio and telling us his situation, so we see how he came to be nosing around monastic libraries in Germany. He then goes on to tell how this poem, itself influenced by the ideas of Epicurus, left its imprint on the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and beyond, even to our own Thomas Jefferson. The controversial ideas contained in the poem are outlined on pages 185-199.

For anyone who enjoys this book, I would also recommend How to Live – or – A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. Montaigne, too, was a link, carrying the Epicurean ideas of Lucretius forward. I love these words from page 247-8:
"There are moments, rare and powerful, in which a writer, long vanished from the face of the earth, seems to stand in your presence and speak to you directly, as if he bore a message meant for you above all others. Montaigne seems to have felt this intimate link with Lucretius..."




Lastly, if you are a bookaholic, as I am, certainly you can empathize with Petrarch, quoted on page 119:
"Gold, silver, jewels, purple garments, houses built of marble, groomed estates, pious paintings, caparisoned steeds, and other things of this kind offer a mutable and superficial pleasure; books give delight to the very marrow of one's bones. They speak to us, consult with us, and join with us in a living and intense intimacy."

The Swerve invites us to join the conversation, to commune with minds across the ages. Who could resist?



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One Way or Another by Rhonda Bowen 
submitted by Damera



Toni Shields is a hard-nosed reporter who will go to great lengths for a story. This is how we find her at the beginning of One Way or Another. Toni and her best friend, Afrika, are caught snooping on the mayor of Atlanta and they are arrested and taken to jail.

It is here that she runs into Adam Bayne. Adam is the director of a youth halfway house called Jacob’s House. Although they don’t exchange words, there is electricity between the two of them that can’t be denied.

When Toni is reassigned to the journalist pool at work, having almost caused the paper a lawsuit, she still finds a way to get front page stories using a pseudonym. Her big story revolves around a young man’s incarceration, Jacob’s House, and Adam Bayne. Adam appears to have a dislike for Toni, who he learns is the sister of his best friend, Trey. Toni also appears to not take to Adam as well but, as they see more of each other and begin to know each other better, their feelings begin to change.

Adam has hidden a secret for years from everyone including his best friend. When this secret is revealed, it causes a rift between Adam and the boys at the youth center, and also between Toni and himself. How will Toni handle this betrayal? And how can Adam rectify his image, which has now been damaged?

I felt that the author, Rhonda Bowen, captured the essence of her characters throughout this book. Toni was a no holds barred type of woman, but that was just her outer shell. On the inside, Toni was deeply fragile and still unable to cope with the tragedies of her past. Adam, on the other hand, seemed to be level headed and in control, but he too had things in his past that he needed to deal with in order to be complete.

This book is a Christian Fiction novel. Readers can feel refreshed with its content and the message that it portrays, which is to face your past, deal with the consequences, and learn to live your life. Ms. Bowen has another novel, Man Enough for Me, which is also a page turner.



I think that people will truly enjoy One Way or Another and look forward to hearing others' thoughts.

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Duel in the Sun: Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley and America’s Greatest Marathon by John Brant 
submitted by Tommy



If you’re a runner, you’ll love Duel in the Sun by John Brant. If you’re not a runner, it’s still a really good book. It’s the story of two men driven to insanity. It is high drama at its best.

Alberto Salazar was the young, cocky, super talented, two time winner of the NYC marathon. Dick Beardsley was a farm boy and virtually unknown as a marathoner. Beardsley wasn’t known for his speed, but had improved in each of his marathons. Both runners had extreme endurance and confidence and that may be all they had in common. Both had a common opponent…the HEAT .

The style of the book reminds me of distance running itself. Chapters are not chronological. They move in time just like a runner’s mind will move during a long run. You may run a few miles and realize that you haven’t used your mind at all. Then you may flash back and see years of your past in the next few minutes of your run.

In general, as Bill Rodgers once said, “The Marathon can humble you.” In specific, the Boston Marathon can break you. Boston has Heartbreak Hill at the 20 mile mark. And it is about the 20 mile mark that all humans “hit the wall” in any marathon (when glycogen levels are depleted). This race in 1982 broke both of these men. They finished in first and second place, having dueled the entire race that Salazar won by two seconds. I remember seeing this race as an 18 year old. Salazar was all the rage and a new idol of mine. And then he fell off the map a few years later. I had always wondered what happened. This book explains it.

Both men had demons. Some of these demons were from childhood, some came from this race. Both men would become broken physically and mentally. Beardsley became addicted to drugs; Salazar became obsessed with becoming the dominant runner he was before the Duel in the Sun. The details of their decline are frightening. The fight back for both men is inspiring.

I’m not usually taken by “inspirational books.” This one is different, it has moved me deeply. You can reserve it here.

The Library also has Alberto Salazar’s new book, 14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life, which also I plan to read.



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The Imperfections of Memory: Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending  
submitted by Rob



“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but – mainly – to ourselves.” - Tony Webster, The Sense of an Ending


History. For many, this word conjures images of ancient civilizations, dead kings, or even likeable, quirky professors who consider a discussion of Seven Pillars of Wisdom to be appropriate entertainment for a Friday evening. But in the realm of the mundane, history is something that each individual creates for him- or herself through the simple acts of living and breathing. And as difficult as world history is to accurately record due to individual and subjective preferences, prejudices, and pressures, personal history can be just as challenging to relate and even properly remember.


Personal history forms the crux of the novel The Sense of an Ending, written by Julian Barnes and published in 2011. The reader follows the narration of the primary character, Tony Webster, as he recollects his memories surrounding his close group of friends during those years leading up to and during their time at university.

On the surface and at the outset, these reminiscences bring some level of warm nostalgia to Tony. As the story progresses the façade begins to crack and peel, revealing a harsher, colder environment within which those past events took place, thus bringing forth a revised understanding of his past and the ramifications of choices made.

As a young person, I thought the oft-quoted phrase “know thyself” to be laughable. How could one not be fully cognizant of one’s own thoughts and feelings?

Lately it has become clear to me that developing self-knowledge most certainly can be a challenge, not only for the individual, but also for organizations and even entire nations. And, it is necessary in order to fully understand their history and, thus, themselves. Through this amazing tale, Mr. Barnes explores one man’s self-examination of his past and its results, which serves as an effective demonstration and warning of the power of self-delusion. In the words of Tony:
“History isn’t the lies of the victors…I know that now. It’s more the memories of the survivors, most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.”


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Night Soldiers by Alan Furst 
submitted by Luke



Night Soldiers by Alan Furst begins in Bulgaria in 1934. There Khristo Stoianev, the novel’s protagonist, witnesses his brother’s death at the hands of the local fascist thugs for poking fun at their uniforms. Khristo escapes his hometown and turns to communism as a way to avenge his brother’s death.

Eventually, he is recruited by the NKVD (the Soviet Union’s espionage bureau) and sent to Moscow for training. Following his training, Khristo is sent to Spain in the last years of the Spanish Civil War. After the fall of Madrid in 1939 and his disillusionment with the Soviet Union, Khristo flees to Paris. There he seeks to escape from his past while agents of the NKVD doggedly pursue him. In order to survive, Khristo must reach out to old comrades and classmates from his training days, even as the clouds of war start to build over Europe.

This is the first of eleven books in a series. Some other titles in the series are The Polish Officer, Blood of Victory, Red Gold, The Foreign Correspondent, and Spies of the Balkans. The series is marked by well-paced storylines that are backed by strong research and characterization. The books do not follow one theme and feature repeating characters and settings. Throughout, the reader is provided a view of inter-war Europe that is seldom discussed in this country.



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