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The Friar and the Cipher
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The Friar and the Cipher

3.47 of 5 stars 3.47  ·  rating details  ·  198 ratings  ·  33 reviews
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 15th 2005 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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(showing 1-30 of 600)
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A mosh-pit of Aristotelian, medieval and Elizabethan history that had very little to do with the discovered manuscript and its translation. It was very readable, written in an almost folksy style, and made me want to learn more about Roger Bacon. But, the contents were so all over the historical map, it was hard to find a point of focus. The individual parts were fascinating but the sum was tedious.
I'm about 3/4 of the way through this book so far and even though I haven't finished it, I feel like I can weigh in a bit about it. The basic premise of this book is that Roger Bacon created the Voynich manuscript. The evidence for this is so thin and so unconvincing, though, that the author has spent the first 3/4 of the book summarizing all of Bacon's works, all of Thomas Aquinas' works, and John Dee's life and obsession with Roger Bacon rather than actually talk about Bacon's involvement with ...more
Jul 22, 2008 Denis rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Denis by: Martha
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I picked up this book from the library while I was there getting some other reading material for the break, and it looked extremely promising. It is about Roger Bacon and the undeciphered Voynich manuscript. The book started off very promisingly, recounting the modern rediscovery of the book, but then it changed course. Instead of being about Bacon and the manuscript, the authors decided to conduct a little field trip through the history of philosophy and scholasticism. Now I wouldn't normally o ...more
David Merrill
This book was an interesting overview of the historical background of the Voynich manuscript. The majority of the book was about Roger Bacon and the historical beginnings of science and the opposition to it by Church hierarchy. There is also background on all the people involved in trying to decipher the Voynich manuscript. Over the last 400 years no one has succeeded. No one is sure if it's real or a hoax, though most suspect it is real.

As I was reading the book it became close to home, literal
Sarah Faulkner
A bit of a meandering slog, but very interesting in parts. Roger Bacon featured prominently particularly in the first half, but it's not really about him per say. The first 2/3 is really about the evolution of science in the middle ages and the last 1/3 is mostly about cryptography in the 20th century. The common thread is the "most unusual manuscript in the world" but as the title warns you it is an "unsolved mystery" so don't be disappointed by not getting THE answer in the end.
A decent read, not as good as "Out of the Flames". To judge by the title I would think there would be more of a focus on Roger Bacon and on the "Cipher" but this is more of a history of the tension between religion and science from somewhat before Roger Bacon's time to a few centuries later, the time of Francis Bacon, covering a number of historical figures. In a way these are backstory and context for the Roger Bacon story, and also a route through time for the provenance of the "Cipher", but f ...more
Daniel Farabaugh
The only thing that keeps me from giving this book five stars was that parts of it were a bit disjointed. Aside from that it was engaging and the author paints good portrait of the people involved.
Marc S
For a book titled "The Friar and the Cipher", I really expected more about the cipher. The book was billed as being about this strange manuscript from the 13th century, yet it barely got any mention in the book. Most of the 300 pages were devoted to the history/evolution of philosophy and science (and their clashes with the catholic church), from Plato all the way to Elizabethan England (and slightly beyond). While a very good read, I would have liked to have read more about the manuscript. If t ...more
This book is not about the Voynich manuscript, it is a biography of Roger Bacon. Although it made me interested in learning even more about him, my goal in reading this book was to learn about the manuscript. Additionally, the authors did a terrible job in proving that Roger Bacon was actually the author of the manuscript. The mystery is still unsolved!
Interesting book. I hadn't really read much about Roger Bacon or his contemporaries. There is a large section of this book that explains the back story on Roger Bacon and then it explains the story of a manuscript that appears to have been written by Bacon. But the mysterious book is entirely in cipher. Some of the best code breakers in the last 100 years have not been able to crack the cipher. The people that broke the WWII Japanese, German, and other Axis codes took a crack at it. Without succ ...more
Anne Harlan
Not clear what's true and what's not, because their generalizations about history are questionable. No footnotes.
It's a really cool book and very, very readable history. It mentioned Possession on the back, so I thought I'd have to like it.

It is one of the most entertaining and fun historical books I’ve read in some time. I learned a lot about Roger Bacon (not to be confused with Francis Bacon, though he figures in the story too) and many other historical characters. Perhaps the most amusing anecdote was about the death of Francis Bacon, who caught a chill while attempting to preserve the body of a bird us
This was a little disappointing. I hoped it would say more about the manuscript, and manuscript studies. Most of the book was a fairly potted history of Bacon (and of John Dee, who collected many of Bacon's works) that veered close to the edge of facile more than once. It was readable, and is a serviceable history of the high middle ages and 16th century. I notice that the author relies very heavily on some pretty dated sources, though (people have, in fact, written about this period in history ...more
Doc Kinne
There are reviews which complain that this book is not quite what it advertises itself to be. Nominally about its cryptographic manuscript, it spends at least 80% of its time in an extended history lesson of Roger, & then Francis, Bacon. Now since my knowledge of these men was not the best, for myself, I could forgive this. However, if you're looking for greater details on the manuscript you'll probably be disappointed. Having said that, the ultimate conclusion is that we still don't know mu ...more
This is a book about a book about which little can be said. Consequently most of the book is about medieval philosophy and theology, and medieval philosophers and theologians. Kudos to the authors who make this normally dreary subject readable, understandable and remarkably entertaining. The last sixty pages of the book are about the history of the manuscript and attempts at deciphering it. Read this book if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
Despite its title, this book probably devotes less than half its pages to the friar (Roger Bacon) and the cipher. What it does cover is the early history of universities, the church's influence on education/science in the late Middle Ages, and various important figures during that time period. Although it does not fully live up to its billing, I found this book quite interesting nonetheless.
the theory that Roger Bacon wrote the Voynich manuscript "a mysterious tome discovered in 1912 by the English book dealer Wilfrid Michael Voynich...has puzzled scholars for a is written in so indecipherable a language and contains so complicated a code that mathematicians, book collectors, linguists, and historians have yet to solve the mysteries contained within"
Amazing story of the evolution of learning starting with Aristotle through the Christian era into modern science. At the heart of the tale is an encrypted book with illustrations which is supposed dated back to the middle ages and Roger Bacon. I learned a lot about the various philosophers, particularly of the middle ages, and the role of the church prior to our secular age.
I enjoyed this gallop through from Greek philosophy to the modern day, with a lot of information about Roger Bacon, a monk from the eleventh century, who may have written the Voynich manuscript, with quite a bit about Elizabethan John Dee. However we never find out what the manuscript actually says, and cannot be sure who wrote it.
David R.
This one didn't quite deliver on its promise. There is substantial (and well written) narrative on Bacon, his predecessors, adversaries, and followers. There is considerably less material on the eponymous manuscript. That text is practically an afterthought and left me wanting more --MUCH more.
Revealed my poor knowledge about the years 1200-1500, Disappointing in that it really doesn't show you examples from the manuscript, and I gather Yale won't show you much either, but there are other sites. The biography parts are good though.
This book is a primer on the world of Europe, the Church, and the figures of Roger Bacon and a few others (Thomas Aquinas, Albert Magnus, Frederick II) and who created the Voynich manuscript, which is still to this day unusual and undeciphered.
poorly written and many typos but informative and enjoyable with lots of historical tidbits on a variety of history's characters - aristotle, aquinas, albertus magnus, averroes, avicenna, john dee, edward kelley, francis bacon and roger bacon
I loved the biographies,but wished there had been more about the analysis and results. I suppose if there had been more, the book would not be so much of a mystery. The lives of the monks and academics was very informative, however.
Rather Dashing
I never imagined a book about the history of a single ancient manuscript to prove so gripping, but this is about as close to a page-turner as it gets, considering the content.
Sharon Bingham
Partially historical, opinionated, doesn't talk much about the manuscript itself. It is more about when the manuscript might have been written and by whom.
Martin Streetman
This was a good book it just never captured me like their books about books, that being said I do plan on reading any others they might write.
A little dry and not as much about the Unusual Manuscript as I expected and would have liked. Very informative, though.
I grabbed this at the library, thinking it would be a interesting read. However, it's more of a research book and a dry read.
A very accessible approach to Bacon, Thomas Aquinas, and Albert Magnus - interesting and well-written.
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