The best Stephen Greenblatt books

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Stephen Greenblatt and why they recommend each book.

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Will in the World

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Book cover of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

A literary biography, Will in the World connects the plots of Shakespeare’s plays and the sentiments of his poems to the writer’s life and career. No one living knows more about Shakespeare than Stephen Greenblatt. His research is solid and impressive. In this book, Greenblatt verges a bit into speculative possibilities. Where, exactly, was Shakespeare living—what was he doing?—during “The Lost Years”? Was the “Shakeshafte” mentioned in a Lancashire document our man, perhaps tutoring as a schoolmaster in a Catholic home? 

Greenblatt carefully points out that he is discussing possibilities, not certainties. But a possibility mentioned too many times by a scholar of Greenblatt’s authority often becomes accepted as fact. Yet, I appreciate this book because it provides a huge amount of information about Shakespeare’s milieu, and it forces readers to examine critically every claim. In our current milieu, we need exercises in critical thinking and analysis.

Will in the World

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Will in the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A young man from a small provincial town moves to London in the late 1580s and, in a remarkably short time, becomes the greatest playwright not of his age alone but of all time. How is an achievement of this magnitude to be explained? Stephen Greenblatt brings us down to earth to see, hear, and feel how an acutely sensitive and talented boy, surrounded by the rich tapestry of Elizabethan life, could have become the world's greatest playwright.


Who am I?

Fake news is not new. Biographies, in particular, are fraught with fallacies and fake stories. When fake news slanders individuals, reputations are ruined and lives destroyed. That’s what happened to Elizabeth Wydeville, Queen Consort to Edward IV, and mother of the two princes who disappeared during Richard III’s reign. When I discovered the slander that destroyed Queen Elizabeth’s reputation, I began a 5-year research project to set the record straight. Some fallacies are deliberate, originating in envy or power putsches. Others derive from historical laziness or incompetence. What I learned from my research has determined my choices of biographies, stories that tell previously unrevealed truths about individuals.


I wrote...

Elizabeth: England's Slandered Queen (England's Forgotten Queens)

By Arlene Naylor Okerlund,

Book cover of Elizabeth: England's Slandered Queen (England's Forgotten Queens)

What is my book about?

Elizabeth Wydeville, mother of the two princes who disappeared from the Tower of London during Richard III’s reign, was slandered from the moment she married King Edward IV.  Accused of being “low born”—and a scheming woman who used sex and beauty to enhance her fortunes—her reputation as a cunning vixen prevailed for 500 years. These lies originated in propaganda spread by political enemies: the Earl of Warwick and his followers. 

For 500 years, Elizabeth has been vilified. Why have modern historians accepted politically motivated lies and ignored Elizabeth’s renowned virtue and social status? Historians have twisted and distorted facts to demean a loving mother, faithful wife, generous benefactor, and intelligent Queen Consort of England—the ancestor of every subsequent British monarch.

The Swerve

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Book cover of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

While The Swerve is not exactly a book about posterity, it nonetheless provides a wonderful case study of a text that remained on the verge of destruction for centuries, before going on to play a tremendously influential role in shaping our modern world. This book is none other than On The Nature of Things by Lucretius –one of the foundational texts of Western culture, whose impact was postponed to the fifteenth century, as it would not have seen the light of day without its serendipitous rediscovery in a German monastery by Poggio Bracciolini (1380-1459). This gripping work offers a fascinating example of the delayed reception of a prominent cultural object, a proof of its extraordinary resilience, and, at the same time, an illustration of the role played by chance and accidents on the transmission of texts to posterity. 

The Swerve

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Swerve as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the winter of 1417, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties plucked a very old manuscript off a dusty shelf in a remote monastery, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. He was Poggio Bracciolini, the greatest book hunter of the Renaissance. His discovery, Lucretius' ancient poem On the Nature of Things, had been almost entirely lost to history for more than a thousand years.

It was a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functions without the aid of gods, that religious fear is damaging to…


Who am I?

I grew up in Bordeaux, a city that became prominent during the eighteenth century. My hometown inspired my love of eighteenth-century French studies, which led me to the Sorbonne, then to Yale University where I earned a PhD. Today, I am an Associate Professor at The Ohio State University. I am the author of eight novels and monographs published in France and the US, including American Pandemonium, Posthumous America, and Sentinel Island. My work explores numerous genres to question a number of recurring themes: exile and the representation of otherness; nostalgia and the experience of bereavement; the social impact of new technologies; America’s history and its troubled present.


I wrote...

The Paradoxes of Posterity

By Benjamin Hoffmann, Alan J. Singerman (translator),

Book cover of The Paradoxes of Posterity

What is my book about?

Why do people write? It has everything to do with being remembered by posterity. The Paradoxes of Posterity argue that the impetus for literary creation comes from a desire to transcend the mortality of the human condition through a work addressed to future generations. Refusing to turn their hope towards the spiritual immortality promised by religious systems, authors seek a symbolic form of perpetuity granted to the intellectual side of their person in the memory of those not yet born while they write. 

Benjamin Hoffmann illuminates the paradoxes inherent in the search for symbolic immortality: paradoxes of belief, identity, and mediation. Theoretically sophisticated and convincingly argued, this book contends that there is only one truly serious literary problem: the transmission of texts to posterity. 

Nothing Like the Sun

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of Nothing Like the Sun: A Story of Shakespeare's Love-Life

Readers will either be drawn to this book by a novelist who studied Shakespeare in depth or put off by Burgess’ language. His wordplay is quite mad at times, especially when ‘WS’—Will Shakespeare—is drunk. No contemporary novelist would likely create such a mixture of Elizabethan and modern English. Despite Burgess’ knowledge of Shakespeare’s life and works, much of the plot is fanciful. However, his daring is encouraging, his imagination freeing. I never considered writing a book where Shakespeare speaks, but Nothing Like the Sun suggests, why not? Many biographies seem fictional in their guesswork; Burgess’ vitality and imagination outshine the strictly biographical. I found his ground-breaking work inspiring, and it’s a bawdy lark for readers who persevere!

Nothing Like the Sun

By Anthony Burgess,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Nothing Like the Sun as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A magnificent, bawdy telling of Shakespeare's love life, following young Will's maturation into sex and writing. A playful romp, it is at the same time a serious look at the forces that midwife art, the effects of time and place, and the ordinariness that is found side by side with the extraordinariness of genius.


Who am I?

As a long-time teacher of Shakespeare’s plays who’s performed in and directed amateur productions and written spin-off plays myself, I love all aspects of William Shakespeare. Before writing my own books set in his era I did intensive research into its theatre and politics, but the more imaginative approach of novelists offers different delights. I like shedding our reverence for The Bard and looking at the man, his relationships, and what contributed to his plays beyond his sources. Rather than real or fictional biographies of Shakespeare, my list features creative stories for both pleasure and learning. 


I wrote...

Bedtrick

By Jinny Webber,

Book cover of Bedtrick

What is my book about?

Once a boy player in Shakespeare’s company, Sander Cooke is now a hired man playing female roles. When Frances Field reveals she’s pregnant by Sander’s brother, Johnny, a fellow actor, he makes it clear that marriage isn’t in his plans. But if Frances gives birth to a bastard, she’ll lose her shop on London Bridge. Sander would come to Frances’ rescue but has a secret, kept both onstage and off. She is a woman. Even Moll Frith who goes around blatantly as a man wouldn’t marry a woman, but she finds Sander and Frances a priest to officiate. Can these two women make a true union of it? Their unconventional marriage unfolds against Shakespeare’s plays of this tumultuous era, including As You Like ItTroilus and Cressida, and Hamlet.