Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code and the Uncovering of a Lost Civilisation (Anglais) Broché – 11 juillet 2013
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Descriptions du produit
Revue de presse
'Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense: We know the code was eventually cracked, but while we're reading the book we're on the edge of our seats. This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh's The Code Book.' Booklist (Starred Review)
'Fox recreates the emergence of one of history's most vexing puzzles and then puts readers alongside the remarkable figures who, brilliantly, obsessively, and even tragically, devoted their lives to solving it. Forget The Da Vinci Code. This is the real thing.' Toby Lester, author of Da Vinci's Ghost
'Margalit Fox describes the decipherment of Linear B in such lucid detail that any reader can follow the steps and participate in the thrill of discovery.' --Stephen Mitchell, translator of Gilgamesh and the Iliad
'Truly mesmerising. It's also a lovely testament to language and the history of linguistics' --Sunday Herald
'The details of how the tablets were deciphered are complicated, and it's a credit to Fox's clear, confident writing that following them isn't too painful. As with any good detective story, there's a driving narrative behind the puzzle, peopled by solitary sleuths who allow marital problems or bills to stack up as they devote themselves to the hunt … her enthusiasm is compelling when talking about the raw inventive brainpower of the code-breakers, their unswerving passion, and the magical way that a set of lines and curves in clay can be transformed into something with meaning' Observer
'The author's triumph lies in her presentation of this complex subject, narrated with the pace and excitement of a detective' --Country Life
'A fascinating and very readable account of the life and work of the three scholars whose separate efforts over the course of a century eventually led to the cracking of Linear B. This group biography elegantly illustrates how progress in historical scholarship is made possible by the work of many hands, not just those of a single genius' --History Today
Présentation de l'éditeur
The decoding of Linear B is one of the world's greatest stories: from the discovery of a cache of ancient tablets recording a lost prehistoric language to the dramatic solution of the riddle nearly seventy years later, it exerts a mesmerizing pull on the imagination.
But, captivating as it is, this story is missing a crucial piece. Two men have dominated Linear B in popular history: Arthur Evans, the intrepid Victorian archaeologist who unearthed Linear B at Knossos and Michael Ventris, the dashing young amateur who produced a solution. But there was a third figure: Alice Kober, without whose painstaking work, recorded on pieces of paper clipped from hymn-sheets and magazines and stored in cigarette boxes in her Brooklyn loft, Linear B might still remain a mystery. Drawing on Kober's own papers - only made available recently - Margalit Fox provides the final piece of the enigma, and along the way reveals how you decipher a language when you know neither its grammar nor its alphabet as well as the stories behind other ancient languages, like the dancing-man Rongorongo of Easter Island.
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Commentaires en ligne
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
I think everyone knows by now about the Rosetta Stone and how its discovery in Egypt in 1799 by forces of Napoleon led to the deciphering of hieroglyphics. But it took French, British, and other European scholars until 1824 to finally complete the work. Another such effort was needed to decipher the code on tablets found by British archeologist Arthur Evans, in the excavations on Crete, near the palace of Knossos in 1900. The writing and the language on the tablets, soon referred to as "Linear A" and "Linear B", became the focus for the next 50 years of scholars and archeologists and, one architect, all of whom worked in relative solitude in their attempts to decipher the coded languages. "Relative solitude" because in the days before the internet and the mass sharing of both information and individual effort, attempts to reach out to others working on the same task was difficult.
In the United States, the main scholar working on the code was a Brooklyn College classics professor, Alice Kober, who worked for years by herself. While she did maintain written correspondence with others in England - and visiting Oxford twice to see the original data - she really was alone in her work. And working during the years of WW2 and the post-war, with paper shortages both in the US and the UK, Kober made discoveries that took her to the brink of deciphering the code. But she died in 1950, probably of cancer, and her discoveries were given some note with the others laboring for the same cause. But her main discovery, made right before her death, was not given the prominence it should have been given. The final decoding was done by an architect in London, Michael Ventris, who also died young.
In her book, Fox gives a brilliant account of the major players in the search for the language's decryption, as well as the times and the problems the scholars encountered. She ends her book by writing about what the discovery and translation of the tablets did for archeologists and other social sciences examining the Minoan civilisation. Fox seems to be able to explain the language and symbols in a way that even this scientific-idiot could understand, which is no mean feat! From beginning to end, the reader LEARNS. Learns about archeology, languages, ancient cultures, scientific techniques, and how individuals can make a difference. The early deaths of Kober and Ventris were a blow to future scientific discoveries but Margalit Fox makes sure we know what they did accomplish.
During the Victorian era, the sun never set on the British Empire--as you may have heard--and Victorian gentlemen trampled all over the empire and the world digging up artifacts of ancient civilizations. In 1900, one of these gentlemen, Arthur Evans, discovered a huge, ruined palace on Crete, where the clay tablets were preserved by fire after the palace was apparently sacked and torched.
Some of the symbols on the tablets were pictograms, lovely little representations of horses, for example. Mostly, though, the characters were a mystery. Nobody knew what language was used on Crete at the time the tablets were written, and the characters that weren't pictograms were just tantalizingly ornate hints of life in this long-ago civilization.
Margalit Fox tells the story of the three preeminent figures in the life of "Linear B," as Evans called the script on the tablets. Evans, the archeologist whom she calls "The Digger;" Alice Kober, an assistant professor of Classics at Brooklyn College, who spent most of the 1940s sitting at her kitchen table painstakingly making note cards, charts and graphs to crack the code of Linear B; and Michael Ventris, the precocious English polymath with a prodigious systematic memory, who made the final breakthrough discoveries that allowed the mystery of Linear B to be solved.
Although most of the action in this book consists of these three sitting at tables, in solitary, obsessive pursuit of the key to a long-dead language and civilization, this is still a gripping adventure story. Anyone who has an interest in codes and cryptography will be riveted by Fox's descriptions of the methodology and thought processes that Kober and Ventris, in particular, used. With so much of the work taking place during World War II, Kober was reduced to having to use cigarette cartons for file card holders and scraps of reused greeting cards and receipts as note cards. Ventris was a navigator on RAF bombers, and on trips back to England after bombing runs, he sometimes used his large map table to spread out his research cards and continue his work.
Each small step forward in the quest to solve Linear B is thrilling, though it's also sad to see how much of the rest of their lives Kober and Ventris sacrificed. Kober fell ill and died in 1950, when she might have been within a few more months or years of cracking the code. After being the one to make the final victory in 1952, Ventris seemed to find his life had lost its meaning, and he died in a mysterious car wreck shortly thereafter.
Evans, Kober and Ventris never thought they were working on some great, recovered work of literature. They knew that the tablets were, essentially, municipal records. These were inventories of livestock and produce, and records of transactions. But no matter how prosaic their subject matter, as Fox notes, the tablets "disclose the day-to-day workings of a civilization three thousand years distant" and allow us to imagine these very real people so long ago, on that sunstruck rock in the Mediterranean.
The Riddle of the Labyrinth has been receiving some attention as being all about how Alice Kober, because of her sex, was never given her due for her groundbreaking work on Linear B, with claims that she was ignored in the 1940s and forgotten now. To be fair, Fox's own introduction to the book, as well as a couple of pages at the end, seem to take this tack. But the bulk of the book doesn't really bear this out. Fox describes in detail Kober's correspondence with the big names of her time who were active in the world of Linear B, her winning a Guggenheim Fellowship to further her work, her well-received academic publications, and Ventris's acknowledgment of the firm foundation Kober created that allowed him to reach his goal. If I hadn't read the introduction, the book would never have given me any idea that Kober was ignored or forgotten.
I suspect this whole notion that sexism caused Kober to be ignored and forgotten has been added on as a sort of marketing ploy--though with Fox's apparent acquiescence, certainly, given that introduction. My guess is that Kober would have dismissed that whole notion as a distraction. Judging from her correspondence quoted in this book, for her, it was always all about the work, not the personal. And in this case, the work of Kober and Ventris is what makes this book special. (I didn't find Evans's story, which takes up about one-quarter of the book, nearly as interesting as the rest of the story; possibly because he didn't seem to have a clue about how to go about analyzing the script.) The descriptions of the methodology can be tough going at times, but this adventure in history, linguistics, cryptography, and archeology is worth the effort.
The fascinating story of Evans is much better told in Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth by MacGillivray. The story of Ventris is much better told elsewhere, too.
The main reason this book appears to have been written is to write Kober's work back into the equation, where it rightfully belongs. However, it doesn't seem to have been enough for a book in its own right and so hence is sandwiched between these other two stories.
It also lacks the historical context of the Cretan and Mycenaen civilizations.
It's still worth a read - just don't expect it to be very in-depth.
I am glad to know of Kober's work, and sad to learn how so much of her life ended up being "a contender" and not a victor. Her contribution is rightfully restored, but somehow something is still missing.
Dated to 1000+ years earlier than the classical texts of the Ancient Greeks, this treasure trove of artifacts was unearthed on Crete in 1900; yet 50 years passed before the cuniform and pictographic clay tablets were deciphered and understood. Most memorable to me was the work of Alice Kober, a classics professor who spent years, pre-computer, to handcraft her own database / enigma-style machine with matchbooks and bits of paper. While the crafting of the physical accoutrements to solve the puzzle was unbelievably complex and a testament to some serious determination, the continual and systemic discounting of her work, and the lack of recognition that seemed to be wholly sexist in its genesis was frustrating to me as a reader. Often it is said people are born `before their time' - Kober is my new reference point.
While Kober was working with bits of paper, matchbooks and cigarette cartons to test out her various translation options in the United States, in England the architect with a fascination and interest in codes and linguistic translations since early childhood, Michael Ventris was working at his version of translating the same tablets. With careful use of compare and contrast, Fox manages to provide a parallel view of the two translation attempts - showing their similarities, differences and incorrect leaps of `discovery. While neither was entirely correct, the decades of diligent attention to the puzzle that was Linear B would both heavily influence the actual final translations.
I thought this book would have me puzzling over Linear B, trying to see if I could understand and follow the story of decoding a language: what appeared was a captivating story of determination and dedication, the application of rigorous methods to substantiate claims, and the extreme unfairness of sexism that have suppressed and ignored the diligent work of Kober, in favor of celebrating the man who discovered the tablets, and the man credited with the ultimate translation of Linear B. Ultimately, everyone involved in the processes with the Linear B tablets was serving their curiosity in a very human way: seeking to read words written long ago from humans, finding that connection in the written word.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.