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The Decipherment of Linear B

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  46 reviews
The languages of the ancient world and the mysterious scripts, long undeciphered, in which they were encoded have represented one of the most intriguing problems of archaeology in modern times. This celebrated account of the decipherment of Linear B in the 1950s by Michael Ventris was written by his close collaborator in the momentuous discovery. In revealing the secrets o ...more
Paperback, 164 pages
Published September 13th 1992 by Cambridge University Press (first published 1958)
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To say that a book is the exciting story of the decipherment of prehistoric bookkeeping records seems like damning with faint phrase, but that is what it is.

During the excavation of the Bronze Age Palace at Knossos at the beginning of the twentieth century Arthur Evans found hundreds of inscribed clay tablets, written in two different (but similar) scripts which he called Linear A and Linear B. Evans was prone to odd ideas (controversially he rebuilt and repainted parts of the excavated palace)
How can a book about decipherment be interesting? Well, this book can. It reads like a detective novel and gives a great insight in cracking one of the most remarkable writing code of the 20th century.

It offers a good background about the three basic ways in which a writing style can be created. Ideographic writing uses pictograms to describe a whole word, this is how the Chinese writing style was created. The big problem of course is that although some symbols might be recognisable (man, horse
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

--The Decipherment of Linear B (Second Edition)

Appendix: Mycenaean Tablets in Transcription
Luís C.
Lisbon Book-Fair 2019
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Twentieth Century saw the decipherment of two hieroglyphic languages, Mayan and the proto-Greek Linear B. John Chadwick's The Decipherment of Linear B is the story of the latter. In collaboration with Michael Ventris, Chadwick proved that Linear B was an early form of Greek used in Crete and throughout lands under control of Mycenae.

Is there any chance of a literature written in Linear B. Not according to Chadwick in a 1992 Postscript:
Looked at from the point of view of our modern alphabets
Dec 27, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: linguistics
During the Iron Age, the island of Cyprus did not use the common Greek alphabet, but rather its own syllabary, which was deciphered in the 19th century thanks to bilingual inscriptions in Greek in this script and in Phoenician. This syllabary seems to have been designed for a language with a consonant-vowel syllable structure, like Japanese, which does not work well for Greek, which has words like anthropos; the script accommodated such words by using silent vowels. In the early 20th century, ex ...more
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is still the best introduction to the earliest known form of Greek.
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Linear B is the alphabet (or syllabet) of the tablets found at Knossos on Crete and subsequently around Mycenaea on the Balkan peninsula. This book is the "popular" version of the academic volume initially published by Michael Ventris, the person who actually succeeded in deciphering Linear B, and John Chadwick, who supplied the linguistic grounding to demonstrate that Ventris's discovery actually worked. There are sufficient details to give the "popular" version sufficient depth to follow the p ...more
Jul 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
Over a century ago Sir Arthur Evans excavated the palace at Knossos in Crete. Among many other artifacts, he found a cache of clay tablets with an unknown script. Decades later, an architect/amateur Greek scholar finally put the pieces together. Linear B was Greek.

Archaic and mangled, to a Greek scholar it would read to like the Canterbury Tales reads to us, but it was Greek. This book is the story of how Michael Ventris with some assistance from the author managed to translate a form of Greek
Jul 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
I bought "The Decipherment of Linear B" because I wanted a book about... well, about the decipherment of Linear B. While a few chapters indeed discuss the decipherment, there was a lot of material that I just wasn't interested in: background of Michael Ventris, what we can learn of Mycenean life from the decipherment, etc. After the book described the decipherment and some of the acceptance/criticism thereof, the last third was pretty sluggish.
While it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, I en
Aug 10, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: cryptographers, philogists, people interested in ancient greece
This is the true story of how ancient tablets in a forgotten ancient Greek language "Linear B" was deciphered.

This book was interesting, but it was very hard to read. The reading is very dense, but the subject matter is very interesting.

I read this book because it shows an interesting application of cryptanalytic techniques to a non cryptology related field. I was told it was a good book for people who study cryptology to read.
Michael Smith
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
My undergrad degree was in Greek & Roman and I read the 2nd edition of this absorbing intellectual detective story when it was first published. Fifty years later, it’s still a great read. “Linear B” is one of the two languages discovered by Sir Arthur Evans in his excavations on Crete in the early 20th century (the other being “Linear A”). Like many early languages, it was written in a heavily pictorial form, but it wasn’t clear whether the figures used were similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, ...more
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to read about the decipherment of Linear B then this book is the motherlode. The author was a Bletchley Park code-breaker who worked with Ventris on the decipherment, so this is a first hand account. The central part of the book where he describes the breakthrough reads almost like a memoir. Some (most) of the linguistics went over my head, but even if the fine detail of the argument is missed you can still follow it and the story.

He also gives an overview of Mycenaean studies pre-de
William Bibliomane
Chadwick's fascinating discussion of the work of Michael Ventris and himself, who together completed the first decoding of the script known as Linear B, which proved to be the written form of Myceneaen Greek. Although this book is more than 50 years old, its tale of the exploration of one of the oldest known written languages is fascinating and evocative, especially when one considers the distance in time to which a language used in the 1400s BCE pushes the very idea of written records of the hu ...more
Jan 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just as I suspected, Chadwick explains everything wonderfully in this intellectual detective story on the decipherment of a previously unintelligible written language. No, it is not written as a detective story but in the great way that Chadwick was able to explain complicated concepts in a manner that the laymen could understand. After I read his 'Lexicographa Graeca' and got so much out of his writing ability I knew this book would not disappoint. This is a terrific explanation of how Ventris ...more
Pierre Franckx
Jun 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Only for people really really really interested in language and archeology. I found this to be an exciting and fascinating book. It gave me the thrills as the decipherment of the script was unfolding. It left me with a profound (renewed) desire to know more about ancient languages and scripts.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful account of the decipherment of Linear B, from the very beginning to the very end, magnificently narrated as a suspense story!
Great deeds by great men (Evans, Ventris and Chadwick) and a great woman (Alice Kober).
Blake Brownrigg
May 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Written by the friend and colleague of Ventris, the man who deciphered Linear B, so it is something between a monograph and biographical sketch. Chadwick has a good eye for detail and character and is rigorous with his subject and his language.
Zoe Wyatt
Aug 07, 2018 rated it did not like it
Incredibly dull, told from an 1950s style academic perspective. Such a disappointment.
John Mccullough
Nov 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of my favourite books. I used it many times in a course called "The Human Discovery" both as a General Ed and an Honours class. The course was designed to introduce students to books written by people who had made important/interesting discoveries and written a book describing the process. Other books included "The Piltdown Hoax" by J. S. Weiner who did much work on it and "The Double Helix" by James Watson concerning the discovery of the structure of DNA.

This book is about the work
Graeme Merrall
Dec 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: torchlight-list
Scientific books are often interesting reads and not just for the content. Kip Thorne's physics book is one example of a dated but fascinating read on physics for example. It's very interesting to note how scientific writing has changed over the 50 or so years since it was written. As opposed to what you might think as an interesting and insightful romp through an fascinating subject, the age and in some respects the very Englishness of the author makes it the subject rather dry. In some areas h ...more
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I ended up pressing this book on everyone I know who's even vaguely interested in linguists, that's how much I liked it. It aims to be pretty much a layman's guide to Linear B, and I reckon it does that very well. My experience in Ancient Greek is limited to two years watching the Storyteller videos and pretending to learn grammar, but I promise you don't even need that - everything relevant is translated. Whilst it's not a comprehensive guide, it's very interesting reading, and has rather persu ...more
Aug 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction-non, science
This book details how an unknown Minoan script was deciphered without having any type of Rosetta stone. The author is a co-contributor of the main decipherer, Michael Ventris. Ventris was a child prodigy of languages who died shortly after his cracking the language code. The book is a Homage by Chadwick and for the process of devolving (?) a language.

This book covers more of the process on how the deciphering was approached and offers up a number of interesting incites in how languages have been
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Great book for people intersted in historical linguistics. It tells the story of Michael Ventris, a professional architect and amateur linguist, proved that the ancient "Linear B" script was used to write a form of archaic Greek. Particularly interesting is that he himself didn't believe it was possible. He subscribed to the prevailing view at the time, that Linear B was user to write a non-Indo-European language, perhaps a relative of Etruscan. The preponderance of evidence from his own investi ...more
Pierpaolo Da Fieno
Jan 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a story of an amazing human achievement, the disclosure of a secret 35 century old. It's the fascinating chronicle of how a single person, an amateur archelogist named Michael Ventris, attacked the mysterious minoic language called Linear B rewriting our knowledge of ancient greek history.

All the technical details of the process are quiet hidden to make it an easy read for everyone, but the main stream of ideas is still so clear and well told that genius arises clearly.

An inspiring book.
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I should've read this book a long time ago. Better late than never. The story of the decipherment and its critics is great. In Chapter 4, Chadwick mentions the principle of cryptography that "any code can in theory be broken" as long as enough text is available. This is a really interesting thought. The bad translations that some scholars made before Ventris are funny, as is some of the criticism of Ventris's discoveries. The Decipherment of Linear B is a good book.
Mar 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
When I started this book, I thought that Linear B was an early, unknown form of cuneiform. (Shameful ignorance!) So, I learned a lot from this book: Where Linear B came from, how it was deciphered and early Greek civilization.

The author, John Chadwick, was one of the people who did the deciphering. But the chief architect of rendering Linear B into something readable for modern civilization was an architect named Micheal Ventris, who died before their study was published.
James F
Mar 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Chadwick worked with Michael Ventris, the decipherer of Linear B, and became the major expert on the subject after his early death. This book explains how the script was deciphered and discovered to be Mycenaean Greek, and gives some of the later history of the reading of the tablets and what they have taught us about the culture of the first Greek civilization. Short, but very detailed.
Michael Kotsarinis
May 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Despite its age it is a must read for anyone whose interested in history and language. It is clear and concise and it will not trouble the non specialist, on the contrary it will elucidate and educate!
May 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
This was a very engaging account of the decipherment of an ancient script without the aid of a key like the Rosetta Stone. Cryptographic methods end up being the key. I would have enjoyed it even more if I knew Greek.
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Worked on code breaking during the second world war. Classical linguist, played an important part in the decipherment of Linear B.

“Cryptography is a science of deduction and controlled experiment; hypotheses are formed, tested and often discarded. But the residue which passes the test grows until finally there comes a point when the experimenter feels solid ground beneath his feet: his hypotheses cohere, and fragments of sense emerge from their camouflage. The code 'breaks'. Perhaps this is best defined as the point when the likely leads appear faster than they can be followed up. It is like the initiation of a chain-reaction in atomic physics; once the critical threshold is passed, the reaction propagates itself.” 0 likes
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