Greenblatt (Humanities/Harvard Univ.; Shakespeare's Freedom, 2010, etc.) makes another intellectually fetching foray into the Renaissance—with digressions into antiquity and the recent past—in search of a root of modernity.
More than 2,000 years ago, Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius wrote On the Nature of Things, which spoke of such things as the atomic structure of all that exists, of natural selection, the denial of an afterlife, the inherent sexuality of the universe, the cruelty of religion and the highest goal of human life being the enhancement of pleasure. Read full book review >
A witty and erudite study of early American explorers and their sensibilities, by Greenblatt (English Lit./Univ. of Cal. at Berkeley; Sir Walter Raleigh, 1973). The capacity for simple wonder (and whether we have lost it) is the author's stated concern, but there is a strong subtheme here, reminiscent of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle—the inevitable corruption of observation by cultural predisposition: ``We can be certain only that European representations of the New World tell us something about...European representation.'' In looking closely at these explorers' perceptions of foreign lands, Greenblatt time and again tweaks us with wry precision: ``The authors...were liars—few of them steady liars, but frequent and cunning liars.'' Any generalization about a monolithic European sensibility is subjected to common-sense scrutiny. Read full book review >