In the tradition of Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel, The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code tells one of the most intriguing stories in the history of language, masterfully blending history, linguistics, and cryptology with an elegantly wrought narrative.
When famed archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed the ruins of a sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that flowered on Crete 1,000 years before Greece’s Classical Age, he discovered a cache of ancient tablets, Europe’s earliest written records. For half a century, the meaning of the inscriptions, and even the language in which they were written, would remain a mystery.
Award-winning New York Times journalist Margalit Fox's riveting real-life intellectual detective story travels from the Bronze Age Aegean—the era of Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Helen—to the turn of the 20th century and the work of charismatic English archeologist Arthur Evans, to the colorful personal stories of the decipherers. These include Michael Ventris, the brilliant amateur who deciphered the script but met with a sudden, mysterious death that may have been a direct consequence of the deipherment; and Alice Kober, the unsung heroine of the story whose painstaking work allowed Ventris to crack the code.
Linguist and New York Times senior writer Fox spins a fascinating yarn centered around an unlikely heroine: a devoted academic spinster who died before accomplishing her life's mission of cracking an ancient script. In 1900, aristocratic archaeologist Arthur J. Evans put his "tirelessness, fearlessness, boundless curiosity, wealth, and myopia" to work in excavating Knossos, where Linear B the script in question was discovered on clay tablets in the ruins of a Cretan palace. Architect Michael Ventris eventually completed the decipherment of the language, having built off the work of Alice Kober, the languages professor at the heart of the tale. Working at her kitchen table in the 1940s, hand-cutting over 150,000 cards to systematically catalogue Linear B, Kober and her "passion... for the life of the mind" historically have been overshadowed by the two more famous men who bookended her endeavors. Fox's deft explanations of the script-solving process complete with supplemental photos and illustrations of the text allow readers to share in the mental detective work of cracking the lost language. Ultimately, the revelation here is the enduring nature of writing as an expression of humanity, a message passed not through content, but through the act of interpretation and the passionate endeavor to understand. Photos & illus.
What a wonderful and fascinating book of such an intriguing story. Exceptionally well written; clear and concise; with no wasted words, each page has a story to tell. The author’s telling is masterful.
The Riddle of the Labyrinth
Wonderful book! great reading and materly done, combining science, scientific method and adventure in an incredible and powerful narrative.
An archeological page turner
A well-written fascinating look at a little known Brooklynite who helped unravel an ancient script called Linear B, a precursor to the Greek alphabet.