The Riddle of the Labyrinth – Margalit Fox

I delight in non-fiction about obscure subjects. This is a look at the story behind the decoding of linear b, a writing set on clay tablets over three millenia ago. This was a herculean task as the alphabet used and language were both unknown, so meaning had to discerned entirely form context.

This book opens with the discovery of the clay tablets containing the writing to later be known as linear b, then sets out their journey through the following decades, and that of the contemporary researchers who were driven to understand this writing, and spend hours working, often in scraps of spare time, to decode the script. From the possessive Evans, to Kober, a classicist who recorded every single word on a separate homemade index card, through to the amateur Ventris who finally extracted meaning  from the tablets.

There’s archeology, some light statistics and human lives all twisted together as we follow the methodologies and work that spanned decades. Fox spins all these together seamlessly, to produce a compelling book about a subject matter that could be expected to be dull or dry.

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