The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science

Norton. Nov. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9781324002932. $30. SCI
Falk (medieval history, history of science, Cambridge Univ.) uses his debut book to share his fascination with the development of science in the Middle Ages. His title emphasizes that the Middle Ages were not the Dark Ages, but rather a time of scientific wonder and discovery. By following the life of one particular monk through the manuscripts he copied, edited, and wrote, Falk illustrates how medieval monks sought to understand and order their world, incorporating knowledge from classical Greece and Rome, as well as from Islamic and Far Eastern scholars. His representative monk, John of Westwyk, lived in the 14th century and began his vocation at St. Albans in England. He studied and wrote about scientific instruments, among them the astrolabe. He traveled from St. Albans to Tynemouth and eventually went on a crusade. Falk fills his book with photos of medieval manuscripts and astronomical instruments, and explanations of how the instruments worked. While some of the explanations may be difficult to follow for a nonmathematician, Falk’s obvious respect for monks and their work shines through every page and is infectious.
VERDICT Offering a window into the world of medieval monks, this will appeal to lovers of scientific history.

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