The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox
The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

70%

7 Critic Reviews

What stays with you aren’t the wonders of ancient Crete, however, but the genuinely heroic character and tragically abbreviated life of an unsung classicist who spent all but the last year of her career as a lowly assistant professor in Brooklyn.
-NY Times

Synopsis

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.

 

About Margalit Fox

See more books from this Author
Margalit Fox, an award-winning journalist and a senior writer for the New York Times, is the author of Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees in linguistics from Stony Brook University and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, the writer and critic George Robinson.
 
Published May 14, 2013 by Ecco. 385 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Travel, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Riddle of the Labyrinth
All: 7 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Donovan Hohn on Jun 14 2013

What stays with you aren’t the wonders of ancient Crete, however, but the genuinely heroic character and tragically abbreviated life of an unsung classicist who spent all but the last year of her career as a lowly assistant professor in Brooklyn.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Matti Friedman on May 30 2013

“The Riddle of the Labyrinth,” a gripping and tightly focused scholarly mystery informed by the author’s own knowledge of linguistics, recounts the story of Linear B through three people who fell under its spell.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Jessica Holland on Aug 10 2013

...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.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Charlotte Higgins on Aug 02 2013

Fox's account runs with the pace and tension of a detective story – and has much of interest to say about language and writing systems along the way.

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Publishers Weekly

Good
on Mar 11 2013

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.

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NY Journal of Books

Above average
Reviewed by Norman Powers on May 14 2013

While Ms. Fox, in the manner of Dava Sobel’s Longitude, writes a compelling prose to frame a scientific detective story, Alice Kober’s heretofore neglected role in the deciphering of Linear B is the book’s other and no less important achievement.

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WSJ online

Below average
Reviewed by Jonathan Lopez on May 16 2013

Ms. Fox's bumpy retelling of the story turns out to be a riddle in itself—one unworthy of its subject.

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