The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient CodeThe Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code by Margalit Fox
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Riddle of the Labyrinth was just spectacular and one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a long time. I spent a few hours on a plane and then an evening finishing this fantastic story of the intersecting lives of three individuals that helped to decipher the ancient Mycenaean Greek script Linear B.

The thing that drew me to the book, and its focus, was Alice Kober, an American classicist whose work on Linear B laid the groundwork for its eventual decipherment by the British architect and amateur linguist Michael Ventris. She reminded me of Rosalind Franklin, whose work on DNA led the way for Crick and Watson but who never got the recognition she deserved. Sadly, another feature they both shared was an early death. Margalit Fox goes a long way to give Kober the credit she deserves.

The book offers so much to a wide variety of readers. A bit of biography on Arthur Evans, Alice Kober and Michael Ventris. A great puzzle in deciphering the symbols of Linear B. A cursory study of archaeology in the Mediterranean area. An exploration of the inner workings of the academy and how research gets done. A recounting of daily Mycenaean life, as recorded in the Linear B tablets. And just a good story of how humans need to solve puzzles, sometimes just to solve them, sometimes just to know that an answer is attainable. This is a human spirit book.

Personally, each part of the book touched me deeply. I studied Greek, classics and anthropology in high school and college. I wanted to do it as a career at one point. That world still enthralls me. Once, in London, I saw the Rosetta Stone, the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. I looked at it and was just blown away. It was a doorway to another world, a world filled with people that really existed, so long ago. It was inspiring. Writing, my chosen profession now, is a continuation of this very human story. We record things through symbols onto some for of recording device. We convey ideas and meaning, be they recording inventories or contemplating our existence.

On a more mundane matter: wow, three books in 2014 and all five stars. This bodes well for 2014!


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