The Light Ages

The Middle Ages were a time of wonder. They gave us the first universities, the first eyeglasses and the first mechanical clocks as medieval thinkers sought to understand the world around them, from the passing of the seasons to the stars in the sky.


In this book, we walk the path of medieval science with a real-life guide, a fourteenth-century monk named John of Westwyk - inventor, astrologer, crusader - who was educated in England's grandest monastery and exiled to a clifftop priory. Following the traces of his life, we learn to see the natural world through Brother John's eyes: navigating by the stars, multiplying Roman numerals, curing disease and telling the time with an astrolabe.

An enthralling story of the struggles and successes of an ordinary man and an extraordinary time, The Light Ages conjures up a vivid picture of the medieval world as we have never seen it before.


The Light Ages is out now in the UK, EU and Commonwealth, published by Penguin/Allen Lane. Find it in your local bookshop, or online via Amazon, Blackwell'sFoyles, Hive or Waterstones.  

It will be published by W. W. Norton in the USA and Canada on November 17th. You can pre-order it from Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Bookshop and Indiebound.

Foreign language editions are coming soon in Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese and Russian.


A 'brilliant study of medieval astronomy and learning ... riveting.'

The Spectator

'takes the reader on a journey … treats the reader to some terrifying cures and amusing vignettes'

The Guardian

'fascinating ... lucid and eloquent'


'carefully constructed narrative and prose as plain as a well-forged astrolabe. Five Stars.

Daily Telegraph

'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


‘If you think the term 'medieval science' is a contradiction then you should read this hugely enlightening and important book.’

Jim Al-Khalili


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

‘We marvel at Europe's ancient abbeys and monasteries but have little conception of the intellectual life within their cloistered walls. 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

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

'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. He makes readers share the experience of making an astrolabe, computing the heavens, and studying everything ‘from the colour of a patient’s urine to the ninth sexagesimal place in a table of apogees’. Profoundly scholarly, wonderfully lucid and grippingly vivid, The Light Ages will awe the pedants and delight the public.'

Felipe Fernández-Armesto


The published version of The Light Ages contains a guide to further reading and full endnotes. To download the full bibliography, click here.

We travel the length and breadth of England, from Saint Albans to Tynemouth, and venture far beyond the shores of Britain. On our way, we encounter a remarkable cast of characters: the clock-building English abbot with leprosy, the French craftsman-turned-spy and the Persian polymath who founded the world's most advanced observatory.

US cover (W. W. Norton)

An illuminating guide to the scientific and technological achievements of the Middle Ages through the life of a crusading astronomer-monk.

UK cover (Penguin: Allen Lane)

© 2020 Seb Falk. All rights reserved.

  • Black Twitter Icon