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

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The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing linguistic riddles in history and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. An award–winning journalist trained as a linguist, Margalit Fox not only takes readers step-by-step through the forensic process involved in cracking an ancient secret code, she restores one of the primary investigators, Alice Kober, to her rightful place in what ...

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

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Overview

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing linguistic riddles in history and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. An award–winning journalist trained as a linguist, Margalit Fox not only takes readers step-by-step through the forensic process involved in cracking an ancient secret code, she restores one of the primary investigators, Alice Kober, to her rightful place in what is one of the most remarkable intellectual detective stories of all time.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Matti Friedman
…by retrieving a woman who might otherwise have vanished, [Ms. Fox] ends up performing an act of historical redemption akin to the one her subject accomplished. The Riddle of the Labyrinth, a gripping and tightly focused scholarly mystery informed by the author's own knowledge of linguistics, recounts the story of Linear B through three people who fell under its spell…In explaining the problem and eventual solution, Ms. Fox makes the complexities of linguistic scholarship accessible, weaving observations about language into the stories of her primary characters…
The New York Times Book Review - Donovan Hohn
In Margalit Fox's…The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Sherlock Holmes makes several cameo appearances, and for good reason. In Fox, the story has found a worthy Conan Doyle. In the best detective stories, the mysteries of human character are as compelling as the enigmatic clues, and as central to the plot, which explains why Fox structures her book as a triptych of biographies…But it's the figure in the middle panel, an unknown chain-smoking classicist from Brooklyn named Alice Kober, who is the hero of the story as Fox tells it, and it's Fox's portrait of Kober that is her book's greatest contribution.
Publishers Weekly
Linguist and New York Times senior writer Fox spins a fascinating yarn centered around an unlikely heroine: a devoted academic spinster who died before accomplishing her life’s mission of cracking an ancient script. In 1900, aristocratic archaeologist Arthur J. Evans put his “tirelessness, fearlessness, boundless curiosity, wealth, and myopia” to work in excavating Knossos, where Linear B—the script in question—was discovered on clay tablets in the ruins of a Cretan palace. Architect Michael Ventris eventually completed the decipherment of the language, having built off the work of Alice Kober, the languages professor at the heart of the tale. Working at her kitchen table in the 1940s, hand-cutting over 150,000 cards to systematically catalogue Linear B, Kober and her “passion... for the life of the mind” historically have been overshadowed by the two more famous men who bookended her endeavors. Fox’s deft explanations of the script-solving process—complete with supplemental photos and illustrations of the text—allow readers to share in the mental detective work of cracking the lost language. Ultimately, the revelation here is the enduring nature of writing as an expression of humanity, a message passed not through content, but through the act of interpretation and the passionate endeavor to understand. Photos & illus. Agent: Katinka Matson, Brockman, Inc. (May 14)
Booklist
"Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense. . . . This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh’s The Code Book."
Library Journal
Linear B is a script first found on clay tablets excavated on the island of Crete and later at Pylos on the Greek mainland and dating to the Mycenaean period, circa 1400 BCE. The story of its decipherment by Michael Ventris (1922–56) has already been told, e.g., in John Chadwick's The Decipherment of Linear B (1958), and in Andrew Robinson's The Man Who Deciphered Linear B (2002). Now Fox (senior writer, New York Times; Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind), a trained linguist, brings to the fore the groundbreaking work of American classical scholar Alice Kober (1906–50) whose syllabic grids made Ventris's breakthrough possible. Fox starts with the story of "The Digger," Sir Arthur Evans (1851–1941), the British archaeologist who excavated the first tablets on Crete and made the first attempts to decode them. The reader then meets Kober, whom Fox dubs "The Detective" for her discovery of the syllabic nature of the script. Kober's work enabled "The Architect" Ventris to identify the texts as archaic Greek. Fox totally engages the reader in the decipherment process and summarizes the content of the tablets: primarily inventory records of people and produce. VERDICT This exciting linguistic adventure, intended for the nonspecialist, is recommended to anyone interested in archaeological mysteries—and even to crossword puzzle enthusiasts!—Edward K. Werner, St. Lucie Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Pierce, FL
Booklist (starred review)
“Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense. . . . This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh’s The Code Book.”
Washington Post
“Fox’s achievement here is to make this fascinating tale accessible to a broader audience.”
From the Publisher
"Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense. . . . This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh's The Code Book." —-Booklist Starred Review
The Times UK
“… a nail-biting intellectual and cultural adventure.”
The Guardian UK
“Deft, sharply written … Fox’s account runs with the pace and tension of a detective story - and has much to say about language and writing systems along the way.”
Sunday Times UK
“[Fox] … has cracked it, fashioning an intellectual puzzle into an engrossing detective story of driven personalities, hidden clues, perseverance and intuition. In the process, she has uncovered a remarkable woman who had been buried by history.”
The Guardian US
“As with any good detective story, there’s a driving narrative behind the puzzle, peopled by solitary sleuths.”
Stephen Mitchell
“Margalit Fox describes the decipherment of Linear B in such lucid detail that any reader can follow the steps and participate in the thrill of discovery.”
Toby Lester
“Fox recreates the emergence of one of history’s most vexing puzzles—and then puts readers alongside the remarkable figures who, brilliantly, obsessively, and even tragically, devoted their lives to solving it. Forget the Da Vinci Code. This is the real thing.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062228833
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 5/14/2013
  • Pages: 363
  • Product dimensions: 6.56 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Margalit Fox

An award-winning journalist trained as a linguist, Margalit Fox is a senior writer at the New York Times. She holds bachelor's and master's degrees in linguistics from Stony Brook University and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia Univer-sity. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, the writer and critic George Robinson.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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(9)

4 Star

(3)

3 Star

(1)

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(1)

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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2013

    Interesting history

    My husband and I listened to this audio book on a cross-country drive and enjoyed it. It helped my appreciation that I had quite a bit of familiarity with the Minoan culture and have taught Minoan art history. I thought Fox gave a balanced account of the roles of Evans, Koger and Ventris in the decipherment of Linear B. She added the very interesting role of a female classicist to the history of this endeavor. My husband thought the writing (or perhaps reading) was too florid in places, but I thought the writing and recitation made it quite riveting. A definite thumbs-up for a non-fiction audio book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 10, 2013

    Fascinating

    The author presents the complicated disciplines so clearly that you almost believe you could decipher the code, given time and patience. The personalities involved keep the account of the search lively, involving and suspenseful. Besides, I loved visiting Crete and this reminded me why.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013

    excellent history, riveting mystery

    Excellent mix of the scientific aspects of the process of understanding Linear B coupled with the personalities involved. A very compelling story, a quick read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2014

    Highly recommended - This is a fascinating book

    The writer presents a true account of how an unknown script written in an unknown language was eventually deciphered. I found this book interesting and enjoyable to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2014

    Singefur

    WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY!!!!!!!!!!!?????

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2014

    Moonstar to I

    Please go away

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2013

    Smallkit

    Went to result four

    0 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2013

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

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    Posted April 20, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 7, 2014

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