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I can think of few stories in 20th archaeology more intriguing than the discovery and translation of Linear B, one of two scripts discovered on the island of Crete during Sir Arthur Edwards excavations there. However, the story available to the average reader lacks some facts that make the main characters more human. In fact I had heard the name of one of the characters for the first time on a radio program this summer.
Divided into three sections this book deals with a short biography of Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer of Knossos, a huge bronze age site on Crete. Evans' interpretation of what he found there, for good or ill, has influenced the popular vision of the culture he unearthed. One of the greatest of his finds there was the script known as Linear B. At the time it was discovered it was not known what language it represented. As the discoverer Evans had the first right to publish his findings, but as the decades passed he did not do so and he died in 1941 without having cracked the code.
There were, however, a number of other people working on translating linear B, ranging from serious scholars to out and out crackpots. The person who finally managed to do so was British architect, Michael Ventris. His story is the third told in the book and it was rather interesting to learn more about Ventris, his background and his tragic death.
Between the story of Evans and of Ventris though falls a sketch of Alice Kober, the scholar I had not heard about before the summer of 2013. An American teacher she made some valuable contributions to the work.
The narration is good, the subject matter is interesting and the author presents it in a clear manner. I could see lots of grist for scholarly infighting, but as a simple narrative it is well worth listening to for the story it tells.
Also there are instructions on how to go to Tantor media and download the PDFs that were published with the book. Don't bother. Audible has them in your library for quick and easy download.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
The author tells the story in three acts: the discovery of the tablets, the unsung heroine, Alice Kober, striving to crack the code, and the actual code cracker Michael Ventris.
There's so much of human nature tied up in this story. You have the discover of the tablets, Arthur Evans, not wanting to share the tables as a whole and wants to keep them as esoterica for his own attempts at solving them. The story of the obsession and logical approach that Alice employs is inspiring and is tinged always with the fact that we the listener knows she will be dying soon.
This story completely held my interest and my mind did not wander while listening, because I was riveted by the details and the process. As the author kept explaining the task at hand I saw the main story as a metaphor for how we learn in life. There's two kinds of approaches to learning (cracking the code of nature), one is deductive (reason) and the other inductive (empirical). To crack the code it first took faith in a deductive approach and certain assumptions needed to be made. But reason alone was not going to crack the code. That's why so many crackpots kept showing up in this story. Coherent stories explaining nature can be told, but coherence alone is not a sufficient condition to explain nature, but coherence is a necessary condition to explain. The crack-pots and amateurs used coherence but not a consistent solution corresponding to reality. The code cracking needed knowledge beyond the tablets themselves for the ultimate decipherment.
The topic is exciting, well explained and the main character and the process they used were inspiring.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
I really enjoyed the well researched and lively narrative. covers areas of history that do not normally get discussed in wonderful detail. Very satisfying.
I thoroughly enjoyed the reading BUT felt I needed to purchase a written copy in order to see and understand the process of decipherment. The PDF is useful but personally, I wanted to read and think about Linear B a bit more...