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Lucretius and the Modern World
by W.R. Johnson
Published by Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. 2000. ISBN 0 7156 2882 8. UK paperback price £9.99.
It also contains an interesting section on the poem Lucretius by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Lucretius’ On the Nature of The Universe provides a vivid poetic exposition of the doctrines of the Greek atomist, Epicurus. The poem played a crucial role in the reinvention of science in the seventeenth century, its influence on the French Enlightenment was pervasive, and it became a major battlefield in the wars of religion with science in nineteenth-century England. But in the twentieth century, despite its vital contributions to modern thought, it has been largely neglected.
This book offers an extensive description of the poem, with special emphasis on its cheerful version of materialism. It surveys major relevant texts from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and speculates on why Lucretius and the ancient scientific tradition he championed became marginalised in the twentieth century.
It closes with a discussion of what value the poem has for students of science and technology in the new century: what advice it has to offer us about how to go about reinventing our machines and our morality.