In 1499 in the mountians of Valais, Thomas Platter was born and abandoned. At the age of 10 he walked barefoot out of the hills into the turbulence of 16th century Europe. He wandered the breadth of Europe for nearly 10 years with nomadic beggars and thieves until a chance encounter sparked a humanist conversion, propelling him from illiterate pauper to esteemed professor, printer and, ultimately, patriarch. From autobiographical writings - diaries, travel journals, memoirs - Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie reconstructs the life of Thomas Platter and of his sons. Their careers spanned the entire 16th century, experiencing the close of the Renaissance, the sharp upheaval of the Reformation and the advent of a new bougeoisie. These personal narratives constitute an intimate portrait of the emergence of early modern European society.