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Towards the Light: The Story of the Struggles for Liberty and Rights That Made the Modern West [Hardcover]

A. C. Grayling
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Sep 2007
He begins with the often-violent conflicts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries - involving the likes of Torquemada, Servetus, Zwingli and Castellio - which were sparked by the pursuit of freedom of thought, uncontrolled by the Church and the Inquisition. In time, this drive towards greater independence and individual liberty led to bitter fighting in seventeenth-century Europe, including the Thirty Years' War and the English Civil War. Then, in part arising from the English constitutional settlement of 1688, came the eighteenth-century revolutions in America and France that swept away monarchies in favour of more representative forms of government. These in turn made possible the abolition of slavery, and later, rights for working men and women, universal education, the enfranchisement of women, and the idea of universal human rights and freedoms. Each of these struggles was a memorable human drama, and Grayling skilfully interweaves the stories of celebrated and little-known heroes alike, including Martin Luther, John Locke, Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Rosa Parks, whose bus protest became the catalyst of the US civil rights movement. The triumphs and sacrifices of these hard-won victories should make us value these precious rights even more highly, especially in an age when, as Grayling shows, democratic governments under pressure sometimes find it necessary to restrict rights in the name of freedom.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition edition (3 Sep 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747583862
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747583868
  • Product Dimensions: 15.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 669,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy and Master of the New College of the Humanities, London. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has written and edited many books, both scholarly and for a general readership, and has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a former Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, a Vice President of the British Humanist Association, an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, Patron of the UK Armed Forces Humanist association, Patron of Dignity in Dying, a former Booker Prize Judge, a Fellow of the Royal Literary Society, a member of the human rights group IHEU represented at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva; and much more.

Product Description


PRAISE FOR 'AMONG THE DEAD CITIES' 'Grayling outlines his argument carefully, and its obvious contemporary relevance gives this book a timeliness to add to the timeless nature of the debate to which it contributes ... Books like this should be compulsory reading for all senior politicians' The Observer 'Grayling's book is comprehensive and accurate. He considers every important historical and ethical angle of the problem' Prospect 'Grayling's arguments, and the history he marshals to support them, are consistently thought-provoking ... Grayling has done an enormous service ... in helping to raise the profile of a debate about wartime morality which is essential for the victor nations of the Second World War to have' TLS

About the Author

A. C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a multi-talented author. He believes that philosophy should take an active, useful role in society. He has been a regular contributor to The Times, Financial Times, Observer, Independent on Sunday, Economist, Literary Review, New Statesman and Prospect, and is a frequent and popular contributor to radio and television programmes, including Newsnight, Today, In Our Time, Start the Week and CNN news. He is a Fellow of the World Economic Forum at Davos, and advises on many committees ranging from Drug Testing at Work to human rights groups.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reflection and Dissent 22 May 2009
To the reviewer who commented that Grayling is not a historian: well, yes, but that's not the point. This book is very good at giving an overview of many of the events that have shaped our current society. It does not pretend to give a detailed analysis on each case: rather it is to fulfill the thesis that our rights and previleges have been hard fought. That cannot be denied, and this is a brilliant and (I thought) easy to follow narrative on that theme. Whether it is good history is not, I think, in doubt (it's not, particularly), but it does provide the historical context for his philosophical position. Too often past events are left out of philosophy, and in that vein this book is to be welcomed.

His central thesis I thought important and relevent. Free speech, tolerance but, vitally, the ability to ciritise have been vital to our progression as societies, and imporved the lives of countless. Constant vigilence is necessaray to avoid a backslide, and the undoing of all the sacrifice people have made.
Whether or not his conclusions are valid is not certain, I think he overstates the case (ID cards are not as great a threat to liberty as the stifling intellectual environment we came from). But it was certainly eye-opening and enjoyable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening 15 May 2011
A.C. Grayling's 'Towards the Light' is a historical overview of the development of human rights and liberal thinking in Western Civilization. Things begin with the reformation. Grayling's points out the liberal views of Castellio and Erasmus but then also shows that the likes of Luther and Calvin were - in some respects - Christianity's version of the Taliban. This may come to a shock to some but Grayling's argues well. German peasants thought that Luther would sympathise with them but instead he urged the ruling classes to crush them in his piece 'Against Murderous Thieving Hordes of Peasants'. In his 'Sermons on Dueronomy' Calvin states, it should be "severe punishment" for blashpemy and since we we "muzzle dogs", men should be treated the same way regarding free speech. But Grayling also reminds the reader of several examples where Roman Catholicism went out of its way to control human thought. Not only by using the well known stories of Gallieo but other pertinent points that most people wouldn't know. The Roman Catholic Archbishop Theophilus destroyed 200,000 volumes of literature of antiquity in the library in Alexandria, Emperor Justinian closed down the Greek philosophical schools and Bossuest provided scriptural support for absolutism rule in France. Things did get a bit better in the reformation but there was still a long way to go.

Graylings details several other important junctures in the advancement of an enlightened West. For example the American Civil War. He doesn't just detail facts but makes some very interesting points. For example, one reason why Southern states were more reticent about ditching slavery was because their economy was more dependent on it. The Cotton, Tobacco and rice plantations were labour intensive and built on slave labour.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good attempt 19 Jun 2009
By Matter
Although this book overpromises, it's still a fine canter down the path which brought us to where we are today in terms of freedom of thought, speech and a few others.

If you are looking for detailed analysis, or balanced history then this book is likely to disappoint - it would be a rare feat to capture 500 years of nuanced development in 300 pages. Similarly, despite the author's reputation as a fine thinker, the quality of the prose leaves a great deal to be desired and an impression, frankly, of something finished in a hurry.

However, it's best to take this for what it is, which is a relatively readable review of some of the first, and hence most significant, steps on the long road to the position we enjoy today where we are able to take many of our freedoms for granted. For example, few can fail to be inspired by the example of Sebastian Castellion, who may have been the first to debate publicly whether it was a good idea to burn heretics. Similarly, it helps frame the context and significance of a number of key thinkers including Milton and Locke, albeit without any great discussion of their views.

For anyone looking for a thought provoking and accessible entry to the history of political freedoms and ideas, then Towards the Light (at least the first 2/3) may be just the library ticket.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting read 29 Nov 2008
I quite enjoyed this outing from Prof. Grayling.
It is a brief overwiew of the struggles for freedom and liberty over the past 500 years, for a non-specialist, it is an easy read. Not dry at all in my opinion.
I have to agree with his conclusions about the state of British and US democracy since 2001.
Our freedoms and liberties were hard won and we have to be eternally vigilant against their erosion by an over-powerful centralist state.
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This is a great book on a vital subject. Grayling brings to life the personal stories and sacrifices that have been made in the name of greater freedom, and in the process gives much-needed context to contemporary debates. Read this book in a weekend, and thank the accident of history that spared you the struggle for fundamental freedoms that too often we take for granted in the modern world
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Quality
Though I haven't read the book yet,which was highly recommended by my lecturer. I can comment on the delivery, which was super fast and the book is pretty much brand new even... Read more
Published 6 months ago by N.i
4.0 out of 5 stars A tour de force through five centuries of European history
Philosopher A.C. Grayling provides a tour de force through 5 centuries of European history, highlighting some of the key events, personalities and struggles that led to the... Read more
Published on 11 Feb 2012 by Nick Stavrakis
5.0 out of 5 stars Liberty has been a struggle
In a week - August 2011 - when London and other major British cities have had their peace shattered by rioting and rampaging groups looting and destroying property and the police,... Read more
Published on 13 Aug 2011 by RR Waller
4.0 out of 5 stars enlightenment with a light touch
Picking his way carefully through the troubled history of ideas of freedom and liberty, Grayling inspires his reader to recognise basic human rights and to consider the modern... Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2010 by S. Bloxham
1.0 out of 5 stars Pitifully ordinary, no deep knowledge, brushes aside vast crimes -...
I found this in a second-hand bookshop; the hardback jacket design is in the style of an 18th century 'notice'. Read more
Published on 16 Jun 2009 by Rerevisionist
2.0 out of 5 stars Grayling is not a historian. And it shows.
I am a huge fan of Grayling's philosophical writings, and as far as I am aware, I have read (and enjoyed) all of his published books. Read more
Published on 18 Nov 2008 by Ekisenge
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