A brilliant schoolboy in seventeenth-century Amsterdam quickly learns to keep his ideas to himself. When he is twenty-three, those ideas prove so scandalous to his religious community that he is cast out, cursed, and effectively erased from their communal life. The scandal shows no sign of waning as his ideas spread throughout Europe, where he is almost universally reviled as an instrument of the devil. At the center of the storm, he lives the simplest of lives, quietly devoted to his work as a lens grinder and to his steadfast search for truth-an endeavor that paves the way to all that is best in modern democracies. He does not live to see the results of his efforts, but his ideas change the world.