Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve racked up prizes — and completely misled you about the Middle Ages - Vox: The Swerve doesn’t promote the humanities to a broader public so much as it deviously precipitates the decline of the humanities, by dumbing down the complexities of history and religion in a way that sets a deeply unfortunate precedent. If Greenblatt’s story resonates with its many readers, it is surely because it echoes stubborn, made-for-TV representations of medieval "barbarity" that have no business in a nonfiction book, much less one by a Harvard professor.
Scholars have spent the past several decades upending the old myths that the Middle Ages were intellectual stagnant, emotionally repressed, and merely masochistic. Unfortunately, The Swerve heartily embraces those myths. In its insistent representation of what Greenblatt wanted the past to be like, instead of what the evidence suggests, it exemplifies that dire trend of "truthy" nonfiction books that present One Theory to Explain Everything. It represents the importation of Malcolm Gladwell–esque yarn-spinning into the academy.
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