A monumental and exhilarating history of European thought from the end of Antiquity to the beginning of the Enlightenment—500 to 1700 AD—tracing the arc of intellectual history as it evolved, setting the stage for the modern era.

Charles Freeman, lauded historical scholar and author of The Closing of the Western Mind (“A triumph”—The Times [London]), explores the rebirth of Western thought in the centuries that followed the demise of the classical era. As the dominance of Christian teachings gradually subsided over time, a new open-mindedness made way for the ideas of morality and theology, and fueled and formed the backbone of the Western mind of the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond.

In this wide-ranging history, Freeman follows the immense intellectual development that culminated in the Enlightenment, from political ideology to philosophy and theology, as well as the fine arts and literature. He writes, in vivid detail, of how Europeans progressed from the Christian-minded thinking of Saint Augustine to the more open-minded later scholars, such as Michel de Montaigne, leading to a broader, more “humanist” way of thinking.

He explores how the discovery of America fundamentally altered European conceptions of humanity, religion, and science; how the rise of Protestantism and the Reformation profoundly influenced the tenor of politics and legal systems, with enormous repercussions; and how the radical Christianity of philosophers such as Spinoza affected a rethinking of the concept of religious tolerance that has influenced the modern era ever since.
“Spanning from the end of the Roman Empire in 500 CE to the early Enlightenment, Freeman traces key shifts in intellectual development, including theological, philosophical, political, and artistic arcs, meticulously following the threads of classical Greek and Roman thinkers as they became woven into the fabric of Western thought . . . Considered, comprehensive . . . As ambitious as it is informative, this will have historians of all stripes rapt.”
Publishers Weekly
“The subject of this stimulating and erudite book is nothing less than the development of the Western mind from the demise of classical civilization in the fifth century AD, through the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. A work of serious scholarship by an author who has clearly been everywhere, seen everything and read voraciously. But it is also a work written with great elan and, given its scope, undertaken with considerable courage ... An arrestingly clear design, combined with numerous judiciously chosen illustrations, completes an extraordinary achievement.”
—Christopher Lloyd, Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures, 1988-2005
The Awakening recounts the slow evolution of Western thought that restored legitimacy to independent examination and analysis, that eventually led to a celebration, albeit a cautious one, of reason over blind faith. In the process, Freeman reminds us that quality, engaging narrative history has not gone extinct, while demonstrating that it is possible to produce a work that is so well-written it is readable by a general audience while meeting the rigorous standards of scholarship demanded by academia.”
—Stan Prager
“A very timely book and an excellently written and produced one. Freeman is a good host, a superb narrator and tells his story with aplomb ... His elegant prose is a treat for the mind and the accompanying illuminations a treat for the eye.”
International Times
“Freeman makes us realize why the twelve centuries between late Antiquity and early Modernity remain urgently relevant to the world of the twenty-first century.”
—Paul Cartledge, AG Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus, University of Cambridge