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

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  172 ratings  ·  22 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
Paperback, 168 pages
Published April 1st 2012 by Thames Hudson (first published June 8th 2002)
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Victor Sonkin
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
Ann
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language-books
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
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
...more
AdiTurbo
Was captivating at first, introducing me to a genius I've never heard about in a field I'm always interested in - language. But by the middle of the book I still felt I didn't get a good explanation of how the deciphering of Linear B was achieved, and felt a little bit confused about all the rest of the information thrown at the reader in a quite disorderly way. The book sort of lost me and I lost the track. I managed to pull through and enjoyed the ending, but I wish this book was edited better ...more
Jonathan Day
Biased but generally good.

I'm going to ding just one star, but for multiple reasons. Normally, I'd be a lot harsher, as the errors could easily have been avoided and there's no excuse for that. In this case, though, none of the errors really change anything. The historical facts are essentially correct, the chain of cause and effect in the decypherment is fundamentally sound, the errors are purely ones of bias, with touches of insufficient research in places. A single consequential failing equal
...more
Adrian
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
Jonathan
Apr 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book accomplishes a lot on quite a few fronts: as a general introduction to the problems of decipherment of ancient languages, a profile on a really incredible individual, and shedding light on some of the contentiousness of academic work.

Martin
Nov 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I strongly recommend this very readable biography of an extraordinarily gifted person. Made famous by his discovery that the written form of the language of the late bronze-age peoples of Crete and Greece was an early Greek dialect, Ventris was a fascinating person in so many ways. Andrew Robinson, with a training in classical Greek and the evolution of language, is an author well able to create this nicely written portrait of a complex genius.

Many of us have strong interests in some topic that
...more
Lucía
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
"The unavoidable fact is that the decipherment was an inextricable combination of intuition and logic, with the second controlling the (not always reliable) leaps of the first. This is why Ventris was a genius -and not a Beattie, or even a Chadwick or a Bennet."

Cuando un tema te fascina siempre es interesante ir más allá y leer sobre las personas que lo hicieron posible, ver más allá del mito.
Aunque se trata de una biografía muy poco al uso, ya que mezcla los avances del proceso de desciframien
...more
Rhiannon Grant
Sep 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: light-nonfiction
An intriguing story of investigation and compulsion - unlike Ventris, I would like to know more about the implications of these discoveries for our understanding of the pre-classical world, but his story of a childhood interest becoming a major discovery is a compelling one. Robinson tells it well without (giving the impression of) sensationalising.
Diana Lillig
Dec 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Four for a well-researched read about a subject new to me. Recommended for those interested in codebreaking, archaeology, and post-WWII life in Britain. Sad to think that Ventris suffered from crippling depression at the end of his short but very full life.
Dan Vine
Jun 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An engaging account of the life and work of Michael Ventris including some discussion of his architectural practice.
Christopher
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
...more
Michelle Brass
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nathan
Aug 03, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: language
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
...more
Patrick Roy
Nov 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical, biography
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
...more
Emily Herndon
Feb 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Raymonds009
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. ...more
David Robertus
Apr 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Harrison
Jul 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Ian Chapman
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Vroom
Mar 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great beginning, tepid ending, but still recommended.
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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,
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