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The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  2,282 Ratings  ·  452 Reviews
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 civili ...more
Hardcover, 363 pages
Published May 14th 2013 by Ecco
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Robin Hobb
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love puzzles. Jigsaws and crosswords and such.

This book is about decoding inscriptions when you don't know what language it is in, nor do you know what the symbols stand for. I will freely admit that some of it went over my head, but it is so well written that I could not put the book down.

It focuses on three people: The archaeologist who discovered the clay tablets, accidentally preserved in some ancient fire. Then came the American scholar and academic, who made decoding them a life-consumin
When, in 1900, Arthur Evans dug up a load of clay tablets stashed in a bathtub under a field in Crete, there didn't seem much hope that the writing on them would ever be understood. The people who wrote it had been ancient history by Homer's time, and the characters on the tablets looked nothing like any other writing system known in the Mediterranean, or elsewhere – stylised symbols, some of them clearly iconographic, and others resembling bizarre geometric shapes or obscure implements.

Evans, w
Apr 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Being a history nerd, I went into The Riddle of the Labyrinth hoping to find a twisty linguistic mystery I might be able to keep in my back pocket for my World History classes. What I was thrilled to find running parallel to that mystery was a lovely biography of the woman who helped solve it.

In 1900, clay tablets bearing unfamiliar symbols were discovered on the Mediterranean island of Crete, believed to be from a civilization that flowered 1,000 years before the Classical Age of Greece. For ye
Aug 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Emily by: Sara
Shelves: 2013, nonfiction, history
A very readable and informative work of nonfiction that should appeal to those who liked The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this book concerns Alice Kober, a Brooklyn College professor of the 1940s who made major leaps in solving a tricky, alluring linguistic/archaeological problem before her untimely death. Just a few years later, building on her insights while giving her little credit, a man named Michael Ventris solved the mystery. Margalit Fox offers biographies of all the major players a ...more
Margalit Fox
Feb 14, 2013 added it  ·  (Review from the author)

‘The Riddle of the Labyrinth,’ by Margalit Fox
Published: May 30, 2013

The events of the past grow more alien as our distance from them increases, receding until they become, finally, unknowable. Unknowable, that is, but for those who take it upon themselves to decode the symbols, to examine what others see as indecipherable or unimportant, to sift a story from the chaff and to resurrect names, places, actions and ideas that would otherwise be
May 23, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-history
I won this book in a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway! Thanks for the free stuff!

This is a fun book to read about a great story. It's a terrific way to get educated about an interesting historical moment on the subway or in the minutes before bedtime. It's clear and interesting. Bravo.

However, I will follow with some bad-tempered complaints, which will presumably teach HarperCollins good that sending me free stuff is a waste of postage.

I am bored with hearing/seeing/reading people praise other pe
The story of the decoding of Linear B has always fascinated me. Not only the way it was solved, but in particular the story of the two people who contributed most to this. People who were outsiders of the academic world: Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. How could an obscure New York woman and an architect from England stun the academic world by deciphering a script on which the scientists had grinded their teeth for decades?

The book is divided into three parts: the first part is about Arthur Eva
Mar 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book discusses the decipherment of the Minoan script, Linear B. I didn’t know much about it before I started reading this; I’ve read pretty often about Champollion’s work on hieroglyphs, though not in the detail given here, and it’s the kind of thing that always fascinated me as a kid. So I was intrigued by this right away, especially because it promised to bring the work of a more obscure female scholar into the foreground. Fox definitely wants to highlight the work of Alice Kober, who she ...more
Sep 13, 2015 rated it liked it
This book did a good job on explaining the history of writing and the oldest forms found on Linear B.

And how the quest to decipher was so very difficult.

Highlighting the work done by Alice Kober, and the eventual conclusion by Michael Ventris- it seems more like a dissertation than a book. Reads more like one, anyway.

Very sad in parts. And rather disappointed me in that I thought the explanations to the final results would be more inclusive. But it had excellent graphics and proofs displayed.
Melanie Greene
I really enjoyed listening to this: the depictions of the puzzle of Linear B and the way various preconceived notions (it's not Etruscan!) can stymie progress, and the pre-computer-era attempts to consolidate knowledge, and how much it helped to have people from different fields approach deciphering from the different angles their disciplines taught them.

But I'm saddened when I read stories like this, or Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our
Maine Colonial
May 28, 2013 rated it liked it
A deskbound adventure

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 Brit
Ann Schwader
Feb 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a highly readable introduction to one of archaeology's most notable mysteries, the "Minoan" script known as Linear B.

Journalist Margalit Fox -- who is also a linguist -- organizes her narrative into three biographical sections. The first covers Victorian archaeologist Arthur Evans, who first discovered the script. The second (and possibly most fascinating) deals with Brooklyn College classicist Alice Kober, who did the lioness's share of sorting out the intricacies of Linear B before her
May 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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 c ...more
Jun 30, 2013 rated it liked it
A well-written popularizing account of the amazing trio connected to the quest to crack the mystery of Linear B. Fox has a self-confessed 'brief' for the middle character in this saga, Alice Kober. Kober, an asst professor at Brooklyn College, emerges as the true hero of Fox's account. That is the part of her re-telling of this story (known already via other, older works on the decipherment - c.f. Chadwick) that is most unique and most hard to parse. Fox is undoubtedly correct to call more atten ...more
Victor Sonkin
I was wary of this book, because the author so obviously carried a torch for Alice Kober (at the expense, I thought, of my cultural hero Michael Ventris). Well, she does; but for a reason, and while aggrandizing Kober, she does not diminish Ventris's role in the decipherment of Linear B. My only serious quibble is Fox's insistence that Kober had been a victim of blanket unacknowledgment prior to her book. This is simply not true; not a single popular description of the Linear B story failed to d ...more
Jul 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful account of the solution to an ancient puzzle that stymied scholars for decades. Tablets were unearthed on Crete in 1900 that were inscribed in an unknown script and that dated to 1400 B.C. It took fifty years before anyone could read the script!

Fox, an obituary writer for the NY Times, has turned a potentially arid topic into a page-turning narrative by telling the story of three different people whose lives were dominated by the study of this linguistic cipher. The news here is that
Nov 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Any book that uses the word boustrophedon is worth reading. Over and out.
Beth Gutcheon
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was so riveting that we had to go to Crete to see the Minoan ruins for ourselves. Life-changing, and a gripping story, beautifully told. Margalit Fox is a hero.
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
the story of linear b is Extremely Cool

-it's absolutely wild how much "this guy did a ton for archaeology, and also he was a white supremacist digging for proof of white supremacy" there was in the field
-alice kober is Incredible, Amazing, A Hero Of Scholarship????????? Put Her On A Google Doodle
-also extremely wild how "the guy who eventually cracked it turned to linear b as an escape from a bad home life, which was, btw, awful in part because Carl Jung Himself told his parents they were fucked
Tudor Ciocarlie
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've fell in love with Alice Kober. Great book for any reader that is fascinated by history and archaeology.
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Interesting introductory book on post-WWII archaeologists’ and classicists' painstaking efforts to decipher the ancient Mycenaean script, Linear B, with a peek into the lives in Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations.
All in all, this is a book on linguistics, supported by a mix of biographies and history - such as Kober's meager professorship salary and unmerited career, despite her extraordinary talent and ground-breaking contributions, because she's a woman.
Derek Haddad
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
With the final decipherment of Linear B by a young, ingenious architect, it was only inevitable that commentators link Michael Ventris to Daedalus, the architect of the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos. Yet, in her book on the history of the decipherment of this enigmatic script, Margalit Fox alters the narrative framework, as well as how the reader views the making and shaping of history. In The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Fox depicts Sir Arthur Evans as an old, ruthless “King Minos” of Archaeolog ...more
Mark Flowers
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
At long last, I've posted my review (plus extra thoughts) of one of my favorite books of the year:

FOX, Margalit. The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code. 400p. Ecco. May 2013. Tr $27.99. ISBN 978-0-06-222883-3.

Adult/High School–In 1900, an archaeologist named Arthur Evans, digging in Crete, uncovered a trove of tablets written in a 3000-year-old script he named Linear B: an unknown script recording an unknown language, the most dif
Peter Mcloughlin
Really good book on the cracking of the Minoan Linear B clay tablets found in the 1890s by Evans and cracked by Ventris et al in the late forties. The script reveals that the Minoans used a syllabary for an archaic form of Greek language that is the ancestor to the Greek of the classical period. The book tells the story of the cracking of the code and explains the methods used to crack it. It also has a puzzle here and there to demonstrate cryptography and code breaking. More interesting to read ...more
Feb 01, 2015 added it
Shelves: library-book
Sometimes, you find yourself in the middle of a non-fiction book about things that you never thought you wanted to know about ... and you are just captivated. This is one of those books. A marvelous yarn about the deciphering of some ancient tablets - which turned out to be an old version of Greek written in a script no one had seen before. The mystery was unraveled by several people, one a previously unsung woman from Brooklyn. Happenstance led to the tablets existing in the first place; but fo ...more
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book is fascinating, sort of an historical mystery, and I found it hard to put it down and go back to regular life. Margalit Fox's account into the work of deciphering Linear B script--especially the look at Ms. Kober's crucial work, which has too often been overlooked--reads like a thriller, and there's enough human interest in pathos to keep a reader hooked even if they're not as fascinated by lost languages as I am. I think this would also be a useful text for someone who's constructing ...more
May 09, 2014 rated it liked it
This lucid account of the decades-long effort to decode the ancient script known as Linear-B finally gives credit to spinster Alice Kober, whose groundwork was essential to the solution. Kober must have seemed an odd, dowdy character, but Fox shows just how much she came alive when working on decoding the ancient language of Crete.
Nov 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having hit the wrong key, I have lost the review. Maybe I can reconstruct it later.

Semi-scholarly book about scholarly folk attempting to seek the meaning of a Bronze Age form of writing in use from 1400-1200 BC.

Take home lesson: thankless work for a female scholar; perfect activity for "acting out" and wasting time for male scholars.
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2013
This is an incredible, fascinating book!
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own-audio, quest
I really liked this one. I love the story of deciphering and translating ancient texts. Learned so much from this book, and the writing here was done very well.
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I am a senior writer at The New York Times originally trained as a linguist, and I've been lucky enough to be able to combine my vocation with my avocation by writing narrative nonfiction books about language.

My new book, "The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code," the story of the race to decipher the mysterious Bronze Age script known as Linear B, will be published on May
More about Margalit Fox
“A scholar’s worst enemy is his own mind. Facts are slippery things. Almost anything can be proved with them, if they are correctly selected. . . .” 2 likes
“After all, solving a jigsaw puzzle is no fun, if you know what the picture is in advance.” 2 likes
More quotes…