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Breaking the Maya Code Presents the inside story of one of the major intellectual breakthroughs of our time - the great decipherment of an ancient Maya script revised with the advanced developments. This title features 113 illustrations that provide details about the people and texts that have enabled us to read the Maya script. Full description

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63 internautes sur 63 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A lively guide to the decipherment of Mayan writing 15 juillet 2000
Par Mike Christie - Publié sur
Format: Broché
Michael Coe has been involved with Mayan writing for fifty years. The story he tells in "Breaking the Maya Code" involves his friends, his colleagues, and--in a couple of cases--his academic foes. The story is a scientific one, but Coe provides a look at the human history too.
Mayan writing has only really started to give up its secrets in the last twenty five years. Coe's primary thesis (for which he makes a convincing case) is that there are two reason it took so long: first, there was no large, widely available corpus of Mayan writing for epigraphers to work on; second, there was a widely held belief among Mayanists that the writing did not represent spoken language, but instead represented "not Maya words or construction, but universal ideas".
He spends some time on the story of Champollion's decipherment of Egyptian writing in the early nineteenth century, in order to be able to draw parallels with the state of play in Mayanist studies. Then he moves on through the history of the subject, with short biographies of many of the key academic figures, bringing the story up to 1992. There's a short postscript for the 1999 edition.
Coe makes no bones about the academic in-fighting. A couple of the reviews below object to his tone: he is very clear about who he thinks obstructed the field (Eric Thompson, for example), and who he thinks was critical to the successess (Yuri Knorosov). His comments about Thompson, while sometimes affectionate, attribute much of the delay in understanding Mayan writing to the deadening effect of Thompson's influence. Thompson, a well-respected and very influential Mayanist, believed that the glyphs had no relationship to any spoken Mayan language, and poured scorn (Coe quotes some reviews) on those who disagreed.
In the end, I think Coe gets the balance about right. There really is in-fighting in academe, and what he shows of it doesn't obscure the excitement of the decipherment. Coe tells a whole story: it's his personal view, but it's a view from the inside. He's enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and he writes well. Recommended.
53 internautes sur 54 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Some of these reviews miss the point 26 mai 2001
Par John A Carr - Publié sur
Format: Broché
One reviewer wrote "There is some interesting information here, but the snide tone in which it's presented gets to be pretty hard to take." Another complains the book didn't enlighten her on the Maya. Both miss the point.
This is not a general history of the Maya. Coe, himself, has written an excellent book of that type, one he keeps current with frequent updates. What this book is a chronicle of a great intellectual endeavor that resulted on a remarkable breakthrough. It does a fine job of explaining the process to laymen. And it offers a unique, unvarnished insight into the process itself. This is not the Hollywood version that glosses over the real events. No one reading this will perpetuate the sort of mistake about what happened while learning to read Mayan glyphs that other reviews here make about the decipherment of Egyptian writing, for example... that Champollion did it unaided.
It is a book about a group effort that stalled for decades then took off in the right direction which explains how that happened and why, written by an man whose basic balance and fairness caused him to know and be friends with all of the parties involved at a time when, for example, knowing or even espousing the Russian scholar's views could get you, at the very least, trashed by the powers then in charge. [I know; I know Dr. Coe and knew some of the early players]. Dr. Coe's position and unique personality protected him from the consequences lesser scholars, like me, would have suffered had we taken his balanced view.
The book is not gossip, it is a remarkably fair chronicle of a great discovery which weaves in the stories of the people who both made the discovery and also delayed it. True science isn't done the way 30's Hollywood films portray it.
I cannot recommend it more highly.
30 internautes sur 31 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The story of an incredible intellectual quest 18 avril 2004
Par Pierre Weydert - Publié sur
Format: Broché
It took a long time before Maya script could be read in a coherent way. Up to the 1950s, no one was able to decipher the inscriptions chiselled into the Maya temples and palaces in the jungles of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Although many attempts at decipherment had been undertaken in the 19th and early 20th century by a number of - in some cases rather quixotic - Maya enthusiasts, they all lacked the linguistic training and the touch of genius that might have led them to a breakthrough. Thus, by the middle of the 20th century the generally accepted view among Maya scholars was that those glyphs represented neither words nor syntactical constructions but rather that they were to be interpreted as purely mythological allusions. The undisputed leader of this school of thought was Eric Thompson, Maya expert at Washington's Carnegie Institution.
Opposing views of the Thompson school had occasionally been heard before, but only in 1952 did there arise an opponent formidable enough to effectively challenge the established opinion on the Maya glyphs. That year, Yuri V. Knorosov, a researcher at then Leningrad's Institute of Ethnology published his view that the Maya script was logographic, meaning that it consisted of a. logograms that express the meaning of words and b. phonetic-syllable signs (comparable to modern Japanese). Although the ensuing dispute between followers of Thompson and supporters of Knorosov continued for many years, today it is the Knorosov apporach that is being recognized as having given the decisive impetus that led to the decipherment of most Maya glyphs. Over the years, Knorosov's method was refined by generation after generation of gifted Maya scholars, among them Michael Coe, the author of this book and now professor emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. Having favoured the Knorosov approach from the outset, Mr Coe understandably is critical of the Thompson school, but his verdict on his former rival is always fair, never degrading.
The story of expert dispute over the meaning of the glyphs, however, takes up only about half of the book - after all, factional fighting is a frequently observed phenomenon in all fields of academia. The other half is dedicated to the history of discoveries that took place once the Knorosov approach had been accepted as the signpost to follow. Here, Mr Coe excels in depicting the various people who got hooked on the Maya glyphs and who dedicated their working life to the continuing decipherment of the Maya script. All in all, "Breaking the Maya Code" proved to be a delightful read and, this being the mark of every good book, it made me want to read more on the subject. I am now in the mood to pick up a book on how to read Maya glyphs or to have a closer look at one of the four codices, the surviving Maya books. Highly recommended!
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A Great Read on a Controversial Subject 20 février 2002
Par Thomas F. Ogara - Publié sur
Format: Broché
There have been a number of "Gods, Graves and Scholars"-type popularizations of the story of how various ancient scripts and languages have been decoded over the years, whether we're talking about Ancient Egyptian, Cuneiform, Tocharian or Linear B. And with good reason - after all, everybody enjoys an occasional spot of armchair detective work. The story of the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphs is especially interesting since there are a couple of unexpected turns. Now that the decipherment is a reality, if not yet a completed task, the whole slightly sordid story can be told.
"Slightly sordid" because the decipherment was the subject of an academic battle that raged for some thirty years in the middle of the twentieth century. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Mayan hieroglyphs were the subject of some highly imaginative interpretations, rather like the Egyptian hieroglyphs before Champollion. The first fruits came with the decipherment of Mayan numbers at the end of the nineteenth century.
However, the real breakthrough was the work separately done by Knorosov and Proskouriakoff in the 1950's. The serendipitous origin of Knorosov's interest in the matter is one of the most interesting stories in the history of epigraphy, regardless of what language you're talking about. The problem was that by that point, the controlling interests in the Mayanist community, led by Eric Thompson, had given up on the idea of decipherment and to some extent apparently even doubted that there was anything decipherable. The very idea that some Stalinist academic like Knorozov could actually contribute something of value to the matter was unthinkable, and in his position as doyen of the field Thompson managed to stonewall research in the matter for some time. After Thompson's death in the 1970's the decipherment project moved more apace, but there came to be a rift between the anthropologists and epigraphers as to what provided more important clues to Mayan history, a situation which apparently still exists today.
The atmosphere of polemic still hangs over this book. At present, it appears that Thompson is a difficult figure for Mayanists to come to terms with, and we may have to wait another generation before a sanguine approach to his legacy will be possible. As for the ditch diggers vs. the puzzle fans, I think everybody realizes that the field has need for both. Allow me to give my personal opinion as a frustrated linguist and say that my interest lies with the epigraphers, which is one reason why I liked the book so much. It is more than a history of decipherment, it is a history of the Mayanist field, and as such it is for the most part a thrilling story.
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A great book about a great deed 11 juin 2001
Par Rafael Kühn - Publié sur
Format: Broché
With lively and repeatedly witty prose, Michael Coe has written an excellently readable history of the decipherment of the Maya glyphs. As a process advanced by a multitude of people, there of course have been many mistakes made along the road, and the author is quite outspoken about these; however, criticizing this as bias as some other reviewers have done is unfair, as Coe always remains integral to the subject. Not content with a dry story of scientific advancement, he takes the reader right to the core of the story, painting an exciting picture of real people with real weaknesses. I don't think there ever was a time in which any field of science wasn't dominated by battles of strong opinions, some right, some wrong; but in the end, conflict is the source of progress, and as such an unerasable part of the whole endeavour, which if left out would take both credibility and definity from a book trying to chronicle it. Both of these things "Breaking the Maya Code" achieves, and therefore it can only be called a complete success. For an exciting tale of one of the major epigraphic breakthroughs of the century, look no further.
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