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The Man Who Deciphered Linear B: The Story of Michael Ventris

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  78 ratings  ·  16 reviews
More than a century ago, in 1900, one of the great archaeological finds of all time was made in Crete. Arthur Evans discovered what he believed was the palace of King Minos, with its notorious labyrinth, home of the Minotaur. As a result, Evans became obsessed with one of the epic intellectual stories of the modern era: the search for the meaning of Linear B, the mysteriou ...more
Hardcover, 168 pages
Published June 17th 2002 by Thames & Hudson (first published June 8th 2002)
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Victor Сонькин)
This is a great book about the amazing, tragic and short life of Michael Ventris, "the man who deciphered Linear B", as the title usefully informs. The life of Ventris is rather typical of his circle of boys from "a good English family" born in the early 1920s: a good boarding school (one of his classmates was Christopher Robin Milne), war service during WWII, decent education (though in Ventris's case, not a university, and nothing academic at all, only architectural training). There are at lea ...more
Clare O'Beara
This is an enjoyable and fascinating biography of Michael Ventris. He trained as an architect but to his dismay in the mid-twentieth century after the war had destroyed many buildings, he did not get to design or build many projects. From his school days he had been interested in Linear B, the script found on clay tablets in the excavation of Crete and Aegean cities. Sadly his wife did not share this interest.

The name Linear B is given because figures are drawn onto a straight horizontal line an
This book is best read as a companion volume to "The Decipherment of Linear B" by Chadwick, Michael Ventris' collaborator. "The Man Who Deciphered Linear B" focuses on Michael Ventris' life, which, frankly, was not particularly interesting (and which was of course cut short by a car accident in his thirties). The author tries to tie in Michael Ventris' training as an architect to his succcess in deciphering Linear B, but he failed to convince me that one skill contributed in any way to the other ...more
Robinson provides an interesting insight into the life and personality of Michael Ventris and his work on deciphering Linear B. The author's zeal and admiration for Ventris' work comes through in his writing. At times, Robinson seems to channel the personality conflict between Ventris and Kober in his unfair appraisal of Kober's contribution to the decipherment. For example, Kober's insistence on Linear B being Greek years before Ventris reached that conclusion being the most obvious. Robinson s ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Adrian added it
Accomplished little book on Englishman Michael Ventris who deciphered Linear B the ancient Minoan script in 1952. An architect by trade and polymath (he spoke 10 languages fluently) he put aside his architectural work to work full time to solve this puzzle. Robinson ably documents what could have been dull- the analysis of 89 symbols which Ventris charted in numerous ways to find patterns of use. He compared Linear B to several ancient languages including Cypriot and Mycenaean- correctly identif ...more
Michelle Brass
The story of the gifted amateur who takes the intellectual leap and makes the discovery that university scholars can't, or won't, always appeals to me. The book contains enough detail of the work on the decipherment to give a feel for it without bogging down in technical detail that is more thoroughly dealt with in Ventris and Chadwick's work. More interesting was the story of Ventris's diverse interests and extraordinary gifts for modern languages, coupled with the inner conflicts of a man who ...more
This is, as far as I can tell, the only biography of Michael Ventris. The book covers it all, from his childhood, through his World War II service and early family life, to the days of the decipherment and finally his disillusionment with the subject and early death in an automobile accident.

As a student of linguistics with much interest in the earliest Indo-European languages, I have long been familiar with data from Mycenaean Greece in syllabic transcription. However, I didn't know how Ventris
Short (~165pp.). Vaguely biographical, although too sketchy to really be a biography propper. Rather too much emphasis on Mr. Ventris's life as an architect. The best part is the step through of how it is he actually cracked the ancient sylabic that had theretofore been though of as Etruscan and identified it, much to his own surprise, as Greek (chs. 5-6).

Learning Latin and translating beginning to translate the Aeneid, I found his deciphering method worthy of recording:

1. Analysis: "An exhaust
Patrick Roy
I enjoyed the book. I didn't know what Linear B was before I read it. It was just one of those random moments. I saw the book on the shelf in the library when I was looking for a book on Latin.

Michael Ventris' life seemed sad. He had an enviable gift for languages and got hooked on the puzzle of deciphering Linear B when he was just a kid, though he never seemed interested in what was written in that language. So I was interested in what might have been going on with him.

I'm now interested in
Emily Herndon
I particularly enjoyed reading this book immediately after reading The Riddle of the Labyrinth to get additional perspectively on the players of the decipherment- Evans, Kober, Chadwick, etc. I thought Robinson did an excellent job of following Ventris through the process, but I benefitted greatly from already knowing the work the Kober had put in.
Ian Chapman
Very interesting biography of the inspired amateur who deciphered the ancient script. He had corresponded with others who had been working for years, but the step to enlightenment was his.
Fascinating story about little-known figure who deciphered Linear B, an ancient Minoan script. The biography is just the right length to sustain the story of Michael Ventris' life.
Great beginning, tepid ending, but still recommended.
This is a good short overview of an exciting discovery in ancient language. The insight into how scientific method and inspiration worked together to solve the mystery of Linear B in Ventris' mind is compelling. The correlation of architecture and classics in this one person shows why expertise does not have to have predictable outcomes. I hope you like it too. You can read it in about 2 hours.
David Robertus
One of the better book on decipherment- it delves into the technical aspects of the process along with some very good (and relevant) biographical material. Ranks up with Coe's book on the decipherment of the Mayan glyphs and FAR superior to "The Linguist and the Emperor", which was dreadful.
Ben Crowder
I think I would have preferred a little more about Linear B and less about Michael Ventris's life, but since this is a biography, I can't fault him for that. :) Good book.
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author by this name in the Goodreads data base.

W. Andrew Robinson is a British author and former newspaper editor.

Andrew Robinson was educated at the Dragon School, Eton College where he was a King's Scholar, University College, Oxford where he read Chemistry and finally the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. He is the son of Neville Robinson,
More about Andrew Robinson...

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