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The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris [Format Kindle]

Andrew Robinson

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First discovered in 1900, on clay tablets among the ruins of the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Crete, Linear B script remained a mystery for over fifty years until 1952, when Michael Ventris discovered that its signs did not represent an unknown language as previously believed, but an archaic dialect of Greek, more than 500 years older than the Greek of Homer. This book tells the life story of Michael Ventris, an intriguing and contradictory man, a gifted linguist but a divided soul, together with that of his remarkable decipherment of Linear B. Dubbed the Everest of archaeology, the decipherment was all the more remarkable because Ventris was not a trained classical scholar but an architect who had first heard of Linear B as a schoolboy. An initial fascination became a lifelong obsession.

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Amazon.com: 4.3 étoiles sur 5  18 commentaires
19 internautes sur 21 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
3.0 étoiles sur 5 Disappointing biography 18 septembre 2007
Par Adrian Heathcote - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
This is a book about a great achievement and a great man, but it is also a deeply frustrating account of both. It purports to be about Michael Ventris, the man who deciphered Linear B and showed it to be archaic Greek, and only secondarily about the details of the decipherment and what it revealed about the Mycenaean world. In fact the book is best on the details of the decipherment and rather poor on the details of Ventris's life. On the Mycenaean world it is almost non-existent. Robinson does a good job of bringing the architectural career of Ventris out of the shadows, and even linking it up to the decipherment, but the book is so sketchy about the facts of Ventris's marriage and the life of his parents that this can't really count as an account of Ventris's life at all. When did his father die and what did he die of?; what caused his parents to divorce?; why was Ventris's wife so chronically uninterested in his devotion to the decipherment?; what were her interests, and who were her friends? -- the list of unanswered questions goes on and on.

The great revelation of the book -- from a biographical point of view -- is that Ventris's death, at the height of his fame, was very likely suicide. Robinson is too reticent to say it that baldly but he lays out the facts and allows the reader to draw the obvious conclusion. But when he left home that night at midnight, only to crash, one hour later, into a parked truck on a road he had no reason to be on, at high speed, there is so much that the reader wants to know that this book will not tell. Had he and his wife quarelled? They were clearly not close by that point, so had she asked for a divorce? Why did she think he left the house at that hour? In fact the figure of Lois Ventris is shadowy beyond all belief. For large parts of the story I wondered if they were still married. There are no good photographs of her; there are no good photographs of his children; there are no photographs of the house that he designed and built; there are no photographs of any of his other design projects.

And the book has some strange biases as well. When Ventris fell out with Myres and Kolber, Ventris reported this at the time as a `huge row' -- presumably with Kolber alone. But Robinson presents his subsequent letter as evidence of a fatal weakness of personality that would manifest again, shortly before his death. What it rather looks to be evidence of is Kolber's unpleasant personality, and Ventris's reaction to it, nothing more. He gracefully withdrew from a project he knew he could not be part of. And what was driving his later withdrawal from his architecture research position looks to be entirely unconnected.

This reader also felt that the non-academic Robinson was entirely too enamoured of the genius, non-academic Ventris doing things that the plodding academics could only dream of. One very quickly wearies of tales of just how dull and unimaginative the academics of Oxford and beyond are. There is the music of axes being ground here. And Robinson is too inclined to set up a straw man of logic versus the flights of imagination in scientific discovery: he seems to have no idea that he is saying something that everyone knows and knows all too well.

So all in all this is a good book, but one that makes you wish that it were twice as good as it is. And now that this "biography" has come out I doubt that we will have a chance for a second book that might have answered the questions that this book leaves so frustratingly unanswered.
17 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A Brilliant Linguist and His Brilliant Decipherment 6 juillet 2002
Par Rob Hardy - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Michael Ventris was a brilliant linguist who solved a top-notch archeological puzzle. The extent of his accomplishment and his peculiar and likable personality are well shown in _The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris_ (Thames & Hudson) by Andrew Robinson. Ventris's accomplishment was an intellectual breakthrough ranking with the victory of Champollion over hieroglyphics, and unlike Champollion, he had no Rosetta Stone guide him in translations. His victory was over the squiggles on clay tablets unearthed at Knossos on Crete.
Ventris became intrigued by the decipherment as a schoolboy, even furtively studying the language by flashlight under his bedsheets at school. He modestly explained years later, "Some of us thought it would be a change from our set lessons to try and decipher the tablets, but of course we didn' t get anywhere. Somehow I've remained interested in the problem ever since." He did not then, of course, have the academic credentials to tackle such a task, but he never got them. He was a brilliant linguist, picking up languages quickly and speaking like a native, but he had no training in language or the classics; he never even went to university. He trained as an architect, and for all his short life, he split his endeavors between architecture and Linear B. Robinson maintains that the decipherment was helped by Ventris's training in architecture. The book is excellent at showing the difficult assignment Ventris gave himself, using good analogies with English words to make the puzzle as plain as possible for non-linguists. It shows the importance of hunches and inspiration, as well as cold logic. Ventris solved what is probably the greatest challenge in deciphering any ancient language, and though the achievement was magnificent, the fruits were meager: there is no literature in the language, no epic poetry, no sparkling civilization. The tablets are inventories and lists of possessions such as urns and goats.
Ventris was a gently humorous but private man who remains an enigma in many ways, and was so to the people who knew him. Having abandoned further work on Linear B, he also abandoned the assignment he was pursuing in architecture at the same time. He died in a car crash at the age of 34. Robinson is full of admiration for Ventris's astonishing accomplishment, and this book shows just how remarkable an achievement it was. It is not only an excellent small biography, but an introduction to a magnificent intellectual triumph.
12 internautes sur 14 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 A mysterious man who solved a mysterious puzzle 31 décembre 2002
Par bensmomma - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
Linear B was a script of unknown language that appeared in bits and pieces in archaelogical digs in an around Greece. Nobody could decipher it; in fact, they couldn't even agree on what language the script represented. Andrew Robinson tells the fascinating story of Michael Ventris, the architect/amateur linguist who 'cracked' the code of Linear B and proved to the world that it contained an ancient form of Greek.
The story unfolds with the same drama as a murder mystery or detective story. Robinson makes what could have been a complicated story eloquent and clear.
Although I recommend this book highly, at the end of it I still felt in the dark about Ventris himself. He seems to have been a great eccentric and very private individual. His sudden death at the age of 34 seems to have occurred under a cloud of deep depression that Robinson does not really explain. Linear B may be deciphered, but Ventris is still a mystery.
9 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Surprisingly gripping mystery of language 21 octobre 2002
Par Catherine S. Vodrey - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié|Achat vérifié
Andrew Robinson's "The Man Who Deciphered Linear B" should be dry and academic in the worst possible senses of those words. It is, to the contrary, an utterly fascinating mystery and linguistic puzzle which Robinson lays out methodically for his readers--even those who had little previous interest in linguistic puzzles.
Michael Ventris, the man at the heart of this book, was a rather shy, somewhat diffident man who had trained as an architect and married young. Instead of leading the staid life it seems fate had laid out for him, he spent most of his short adult years working on the Linear B--a tablet found at a Mediterranean archaeological dig, and a tablet which had all but been pronounced indecipherable by many scholars with better credentials than Ventris's. Ventris ignored their conclusions and did eventually decipher the tablet. The story is filled with surprises and sudden discoveries, with disappointments and fortuitous guesses, and so on. It is quite a ride. There is even the occasional spot of humor--as when Ventris was stopped by a suspicious Customs agent who said, "These Pylos Tablets--exactly what ailment is it that they're supposed to relieve?"
I learned a great deal from this book. Among the more memorable nuggets was the fact that an alphabet generally contains between 20 and 40 characters--if there are more than 40 characters, it is probably a syllabary (meaning, a system by which each character represents an entire word rather than just one letter or other element WITHIN a word). I highly recommend this for any student of lost language--and anyone who enjoys a twisty-turny thriller!
7 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 An Excellent Read 21 août 2002
Par Gustavo Benedicty - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format:Relié
One gets to know and understand Michael Ventris in the context of the many social and economic changes that were taking place in England in the years straddling the Second World War. I especially liked how the book highlights the collaborative approach that Michael Ventris adopted to address the problems of deciphering Linear B and his architectural assignments.
The book does an wonderful job of explaining with enough detail, but without overwhelming the casual reader, the administrative and intellectual hurdles that Michael Ventris had to overcome to decipher this ancient system of writing.
I enjoyed it as a great biography but surprisingly also as a source of ideas on how to approach complex management projects ... it is much more readable than a typical project management book.
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