An innovative and elegant new biography of John Milton from an acclaimed Oxford professor

John Milton was once essential reading for visionaries and revolutionaries, from William Blake to Ben Franklin. Now, however, he has become a literary institution—intimidating rather than inspiring.

In Making Darkness Light, Oxford professor Joe Moshenska rediscovers a poet whose rich contradictions confound his monumental image. Immersing ourselves in the rhythms and textures of Milton’s world, we move from the music of his childhood home to his encounter with Galileo in Florence into his idiosyncratic belief system and his strange, electrifying imagination.

Making Darkness Light  will change the way we think about Milton, the place of his writings in his life, and his life in history. It is also a book about Milton’s place in our times: about our relationship with the Western canon, about why and how we read, and about what happens when we let someone else’s ideas inflect our own.

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


“Moshenska knows his way around Milton’s world… Making Darkness Light privileges us with a peek inside its author’s mind in contemplation of such a life and makes a compelling case that it could be told in no other way.”—Boston Globe
“Moshenska makes light of Milton and his works as he traverses 11 crucial days in his life.”—The Times (UK)
“Joe Moshenska’s Making Darkness Light is unlike any book about Milton…richly inventive.”—The Sunday Times

"Of course, anyone looking for a deeper understanding of the facts of Milton’s life and the context for his poetry will certainly find what they’re looking for here. Making Darkness Light includes not only moments in Milton’s life and the landscape of 17th century England as well as close readings of his work. But it’s the exploration of what the author describes as one of Milton’s deepest occupations, “the place of literature in a life,” that sets the book apart. Moshenka has no aspirations to separate the biographer from the biography, and Making Darkness Light is richer for his presence throughout the book." 

Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub Senior Editor
“[Moshenska’s] sympathetic yet challenging account will undoubtedly win Milton new readers — and for that a chorus of Hallelujahs.”—The Spectator
Making Darkness Light is not a conventional biography…despite the ambitious and demanding nature of his project, Moshenska writes with humility and agility.”—Literary Review
“Moshenska (A Stain in the Blood), a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, delivers a strikingly original biography of John Milton... a poetic tour of 17th-century England... Literature lovers of all sorts will find something to savor here.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Oxford literature professor Moshenska takes a fresh perspective on John Milton (1608-1674), the art of biography, and the experience of reading... An inspired biographical and autobiographical journey.”—Kirkus (starred review)
Making Darkness Light is elegant, nuanced, and comprehensive. Moshenska gives us a fresh and vivid account of Milton as an individual and a poet while pushing beyond the boundaries of conventional biography. Blending the personal with the historical and the literary, the results are compelling.”—Bart van Es, author of The Cut Out Girl
“Moshenska has written a new kind of literary biography. At once glancingly a memoir, a rivetingly informative biography, and a fascinating reading of Milton as poet, scholar and ordinary man in his everyday life, Making Darkness Light is an illumination. Milton and everything and everybody around him are seen in a quite different, intriguing light.”—Adam Phillips, author of On Kissing, Tickling and Being Bored and Becoming Freud
“Joe Moshenska's superb new biography of Milton is, like the poetry of his subject, a miracle of form, moving from moments of arresting detail to vast contemplations of time, history, and art, all set within an intimate narrative that is at once deeply embedded in its historical moment and aware of how that history connects through other moments to the present. The result is a stirring and compelling account of how great poetry gets written and gets read.”—Edward Wilson-Lee, author of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books
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