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

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

Margalit Fox. Ecco, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-222883-3

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)