The often-violent conflicts of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were sparked by the pursuit of freedom of thought. In time, this drive led to bitter fighting, including the English Civil War. Then came revolutions in America and France that swept away monarchies for more representative forms of government and making possible the abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, and the idea of universal human rights and freedoms. Each of these struggles was a memorable human drama, and Grayling interweaves the stories of these heroes, including Martin Luther, Mary Wollstonecraft and Rosa Parks, whose sacrifices make us value these precious rights, especially in an age when governments under pressure find it necessary to restrict rights in the name of freedom.

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