Alighting at the pivotal points of cultural transformation, this is an exhilarating history of the key institutions that have organised knowledge in the West from the classical period onward. With elegance and wit the authors question how history helps us understand the vast changes we are now experiencing in the landscape of knowledge. Beginning in classical Alexandria, we then see the monastery in the wilderness of a collapsed civilisation, the rambunctious universities of the late medieval cities and the thick social networks of the Enlightenment republic of letters. The development of science and the laboratory as a dominant knowledge institution brings us to the present, seeking patterns in the new digital networks of knowledge. Full of memorable characters, this fresh intellectual history of the west succeeds in restoring the strangeness and the significance of the past.