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Riddle of the Labyrinth, The (Ala Notable Books for Adults) (Englisch) Gebundene Ausgabe – 14. Mai 2013

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“Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense. . . . This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh’s The Code Book.” (Booklist (starred review))

“A fascinating yarn centered around an unlikely heroine. . . . Fox’s deft explanations of the script-solving process allow readers to share in the mental detective work of cracking the lost language.” (Publishers Weekly)

“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)

“Fox’s achievement here is to make this fascinating tale accessible to a broader audience.” (Washington Post)

“… a nail-biting intellectual and cultural adventure.” (The Times UK)

“Deft, sharply written … Fox’s account runs with the pace and tension of a detective story - and has much to say about language and writing systems along the way.” (The Guardian UK)

“[Fox] … has cracked it, fashioning an intellectual puzzle into an engrossing detective story of driven personalities, hidden clues, perseverance and intuition. In the process, she has uncovered a remarkable woman who had been buried by history.” (Sunday Times UK)

“As with any good detective story, there’s a driving narrative behind the puzzle, peopled by solitary sleuths.” (The Guardian US)


In 1900, while excavating on Crete, the charismatic Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed inscribed clay tablets amid the ruins of a lavish Bronze Age palace. Written by palace scribes circa 1450 b.c., the script they displayed—featuring outline drawings of swords, chariots, and horses' heads, as well as other tiny pictograms—resembled no alphabet ever seen. Evans named the script Linear B, and from the start it posed a deep mystery. No one knew what language Linear B recorded, much less what the curious inscriptions meant. If the tablets could be deciphered, they would open a portal onto a refined, wealthy, and literate society that had flourished in Greek lands three thousand years earlier, a full millennium before the glories of the Classical Age.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history—Linear B—and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. There was Evans, who had discovered the script but could never unravel it; Alice Kober, the fiery American scholar whose vital work on Linear B never got the recognition it deserved; and Michael Ventris, the haunted English architect who would solve the riddle triumphantly at the age of thirty only to die four years later under circumstances that remain the subject of speculation even now.

For half a century some of the world's foremost scholars tried to coax the tablets to yield their secrets. Then, in 1952, the script was deciphered seemingly in a single stroke—not by a scholar but by Ventris, an impassioned amateur whose obsession with the tablets had begun in childhood. The decipherment brought him worldwide acclaim. But it also cost him his architectural career, his ties to his family, and quite possibly his life. 

That is the narrative of the decipherment as it has been known thus far. But a major actor in the drama has long been missing: Alice Kober, a classicist at Brooklyn College. Though largely forgotten today, she came within a hair's breadth of deciphering Linear B before her own untimely death in 1950. As The Riddle of the Labyrinth reveals, it was Kober who built the foundation on which Ventris's decipherment stood, an achievement that until now has been all but lost to history. Drawing on a newly opened archive of Kober's papers, Margalit Fox restores this unsung heroine to her rightful place at last.

Above all, this book is a detective story in the tradition of Dava Sobel and Simon Winchester. As Fox narrates the lives of Evans, Kober, and Ventris, she takes readers step-by-step through the forensic process involved in cracking a secret code from the past. Following the three investigators as they hunt down, analyze, and interpret a series of linguistic clues hidden within the script itself, The Riddle of the Labyrinth offers the first complete account of one of the most fascinating conundrums of all time. 

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67 von 69 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
That difficult decipering of "Linear B:... 21. Mai 2013
Von Jill Meyer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Margalit Fox is the obituary writer for the New York Times, and she knows how to write. I've always marveled at her way of getting into the essence of the person she was writing about, capturing in a few words how that person affected society and how the contributions s/he made were reflected in their life. Fox shows that same ease of writing in "Riddle of the Labyrinth", her second work of non-fiction.

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.
39 von 40 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A tale of deskbound adventure 29. Mai 2013
Von Maine Colonial - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, thought to be written in the eighth century B.C., are among the oldest written works of Western literature we know. Imagine the excitement, then, when hundreds of clay tablets were discovered on the island of Crete in 1900, and they were dated back to sometime between 1400 and 1450 B.C.; in other words, hundreds of years before Homer did his work and even before the battle of Troy he described.

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.
52 von 56 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A little bit "Lite" 6. Juli 2013
Von P. Strayer - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
The story of Linear B and its decipherment is fascinating...and I am grateful to the author for adding the story of Kober into historical context. However, there is too much context and too little story.

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.
56 von 67 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
this book provides great insight into the people most important in the puzzle 14. Mai 2013
Von Gaele - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
I was totally enthralled by the concept of this book: the curiosity factor about the process of uncovering an unknown language suited my puzzle-loving brain, the ability to find knowledge from the ancient past that is not conjecture but in the words of those who lived in the time was too good to pass up. Words and language are eternal, as long as you are equipped with the ability to understand the concepts / read the language / understand what concept or information the writer is attempting to convey. While not written as purely a biography, this book provides great insight into the people thought to be most important in discovering the keys to solve the puzzle that was Linear B.

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.
19 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Solid account of a stunning intellectual achievement for non-specialist readers 20. Mai 2013
Von William Walderman - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
This book seems quite accurate (based on my having read Chadwick's Decipherment). It gives credit to both Kober for what she accomplished, and to Ventris not just for his flash of insight, but also for the rigor with which he pursued the decipherment, building on Kober's methodology. Perhaps there is some exaggeration of Kober's lack of recognition, but not really much, and she does make a compelling case that Kober's substantial contribution--in the face of many difficulties--should be given more than just a passing mention. Fox document difficulties Kober faced as a woman in an academic profession in the 1940s--difficulties which not only she but also a male colleague recognized at the time. Fox also documents difficulties Kober faced working during the WWII era in period of scarce resources, and not being able to work with an adequate corpus of the Linear B documents, due to delays in publication by those in control of them. Fox tells us more of the rather sad personal histories of both Kober and Ventris than Chadwick's succinct and elegant classic does, but he was writing while the story was still just a few years old and the primary figures were not long dead. All in all, I think Fox's book is a sober and solid work of popular non-fiction on a scholarly subject.
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