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The Friar and the Cipher
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The Friar and the Cipher

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  259 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
ebook, 336 pages
Published February 15th 2005 by Broadway Books (first published January 1st 2005)
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Julie Christine
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.
Jul 29, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am admittedly a fan of Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, and really liked this book. What could be an interminably dry subject in the hands of other authors is kept enjoyable and readable. However, the title is very misleading. A substantial portion of the book is devoted to the history of the relationship of the early Christian church with science, reasoning and discovery. This provides interesting background and context for the place Roger Bacon (not to be confused with Francis Bacon) occupied i ...more
John Royal
Jul 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goldstone achieved a readability score far in advance of most semi scholarly works. The narrative is engrossing and informative and the scholarship is serious. Good read, good mystery, far more interesting that the title might seem.
Jul 22, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  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
Nov 21, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
This book was kind of weird, because I was all excited to read about the ~mysterious~ Voynich manuscript, but that only took up like 3 chapters at the end. The vast majority of the book was a brief history of Roger Bacon and the development of scientific thought in Europe. Which was kind of interesting, but not really what I was here for. Plus I noticed at least one glaring (to me) historical inaccuracy, where the authors seemed to say that Mary Queen of Scots' claim to the English throne came t ...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
Todd Stockslager
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Fascinating story of bizarre 13th (or is it 15th? Or 17th?) manuscript written in an as-yet undeciphered cipher (sorry!) and attributed with some dispute to Roger Bacon. The husband and wife Goldstones trace the history of the manuscript as best as it is known, including a detailed history of Roger Bacon and his frantic times.

Similar to Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery which I recently read, the authors spend more time on the history of the era than on the topic in the title. While the
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
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
Sep 26, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A little while ago I heard about the Voynich manuscript, a medieval document in a language no one has ever been able to translate. I wanted to learn more about this manuscript so I got this book.

This book was a disappointment. It isn't really about the Voynich manuscript at all, and instead spends 200 pages talking about the relationship between Aristotle's philosophy and Christianity, as well as as the history of education in Europe. This book is confusing and has no sense of organization, and
Jane Mackay
Dec 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating journey through history and language and cryptology (with a touch of semiotics). It was really fun to re-encounter historical characters whom I'd met in The Name of the Rose (notably, Roger Bacon) and to meet some new ones, as well as to learn more about that era (the Middle Ages). I particularly appreciate that the authors devoted time and space to fully describing and explaining the main protagonists (real and hypothesized) and political, religious and cultural factors in the (real ...more
Mar 03, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Nov 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jun 18, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The authors give a lot of background on the book, which is very wide-ranging. It's not only about a book written in codeand suspected to be the work of Roger Bacon, but it also touches on Dr. Dee, francis Walshingham, Francis Bacon, Fransiscans, Dominicans, Thomas Aquinas, and the general background of 13th-century Europe.
Jan 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!
Jul 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 13, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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"
Jan 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Jul 19, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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.
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
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.
Feb 05, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this with far less expectation than the amount of informationa and knowledge it provided about European and mediterraenean history. Truly one of the most remarkable books on the subject that one can ever find.
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Lawrence Goldstone is the author of fourteen books of both fiction and non-fiction. Six of those books were co-authored with his wife, Nancy, but they now write separately to save what is left of their dishes.
Goldstone's articles, reviews, and opinion pieces have appeared in, among other publications, the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald, Hartford Courant, and Berkshi
More about Lawrence Goldstone...