The Light Ages
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A spellbinding journey through the life of an English monk, an age of discovery and the mysteries of the medieval mind

About the Author

Seb Falk is a historian and lecturer at Cambridge University. In 2016 he was named as a BBC New Generation Thinker. This is his first book.

Reviews

Stunning: both exquisitely written and so very clever. By following the life of one little-known monk, John of Westwyk, Falk opens up for us the sophisticated and utterly different ways in which people in the Middle Ages thought and makes us question our assumptions about the medieval past. -- Suzannah Lipscomb * BBC History Magazine Books of the Year *
Turns our understanding of medieval science on its head ... Falk shows how scientific inquiries central to the Renaissance actually began generations earlier than we thought, and despite our perception of the church as the enemy of science, those intellectual pioneers were often monks * The Telegraph Books of the Year *
As fascinating as it is exquisitely written . . . the range of mathematics, astronomy, and engineering is impressive. More impressive still is the elegance with which Falk tells the tale -- Tom Whipple * Times Books of the Year *
Remarkable ... a book that illuminates not just the visionaries of the past but also the troubled state of anti-intellectualism in the modern world * Financial Times *
"Might it change minds?" is my criterion. The Light Ages might. Seb Falk's dazzling study of a late-medieval scientist is an uncontainably tentacular monograph, reaching from a windswept cell at Tynemouth, where John of Westwyck built an astrolabe, to penetrate unexplored recesses of the history and philosophy of science, and extending across Christendom into the cultures that surrounded and informed it. Falk excises errors about the Middle Ages without filleting their enchantment -- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto * TLS Books of the Year *
Unambiguously and successfully an antidote to the cliche of the 'Dark Ages' as a millennium of stagnation and regression . . . Falk's approach is to explain the things we share with our medieval forebears and the things we differ on: to reveal how they saw the universe * Literary Review *
Riveting. . . a brilliant study of medieval astronomy and learning . . . I agree with Falk. We need to give more respect to the giants of the Middle Ages on whose shoulders we stand * Spectator *
Fascinating . . . the Dark Ages were anything but dark; Falk's book is a lucid and eloquent reproof to anyone who says otherwise * Prospect *
Seb Falk lays out the wonders of medieval science. . . The mechanical clock, spectacles, advances in navigation, a grasp of tides and currents - these were among the achievements of the Middle Ages * The Economist *
A wonderful book, as at home bringing to life the obscure details of a Hertfordshire monk as it is explicating the infinite reaches of space and time. Required reading for anyone who thinks that the Middle Ages were a dark age -- Tom Holland, author of Dominion
Compulsive, brilliantly clear, and superbly well-written, The Light Ages is more than just a very good book on medieval science: it's a charismatic evocation of another world. Seb Falk uses the monk John of Westwyk to weld us into the medieval ways of imagining as well as thinking. And there are surprises galore for everyone, no matter how knowledgeable they may think they are. I can't recommend it highly enough -- Ian Mortimer, author of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England
If you think the term 'medieval science' is a contradiction then you should read this hugely enlightening and important book -- Jim Al-Khalili, Author of The World According to Physics
Like a fictional scientist cloning dinosaurs from wisps of DNA, Seb Falk takes barely surviving fragments of evidence about an almost forgotten astronomer in a storm-chilled, clifftop cell to conjure the vast, teeming world of scientific research, practice and invention in the late Middle Ages. Profoundly scholarly, wonderfully lucid and grippingly vivid, The Light Ages will awe the pedants and delight the public -- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, author of Out of Our Minds
Seb Falk has framed a fascinating book around his personal quest to understand how scientific thinking flourished. The Light Ages reveals the intellectual sophistication that flourished against a backdrop of ritual and liturgy. It offers for most of us a novel perspective on a 'dark' historical era, and should fascinate a wide readership -- Lord Martin Rees, author of On the Future
Long before the word 'scientist' was coined, John of Westwyk devised a precision instrument to explore the universe and our place in it. Falk recreates the schooling of this ordinary (if gadget-obsessed) medieval monk in loving detail. There's a world of science on every page -- Nancy Marie Brown, author of The Abacus and the Cross

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