Marco Polo
Books that address pivotal points in history
Books that address pivotal points in history

"The past is a foreign country," novelist L.P. Hartley wrote, "they do things differently there." And those extra bits of time around the holidays — on a long drive to visit relatives or waiting for the holiday meal to cook — are perfect for exploring how things were done differently in time periods far from our own.Stephen Greenblatt's "The Swerve" (W.W. Norton) is a splendidly told chronicle of a 15th century book hunter's incredible discovery in a German monastery — a moldering copy of the ancient Roman poem "On the Nature of Things" by Lucretius — and how that poem's humanistic message inspired new thoughts and swerves in ideas leading to the Renaissance. Sure, a poem might not be a...