THE FRIAR AND THE CIPHER: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World

Nancy Goldstone, Author, Lawrence Goldstone, Author . Doubleday $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7679-1473-4

The Goldstones, bibliophiles and authors of Out of the Flames and other books, offer a witty biography of controversial 13th-century Dominican friar Roger Bacon, whose Opus Majus "presented a way of thinking, of approaching science, that is virtually unsurpassed in the thousand years since its creation." According to the Goldstones, by challenging the accepted view of the Bible as the source of literal truth, it opened a schism between religion and science. The Church's response, recounted here, was filled with political intrigue, heroes and villains, and enough twists and turns to keep readers immersed. But this book's highlight is the story of a mysterious book discovered in 1912 and named for its owner, Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript has a coded text enhanced by hundreds of illustrations depicting exotic plants, astronomical phenomena and strange "strings of tiny naked women cavorting in a variety of fountains, waterfalls, and pools." Various experts have attributed the manuscript to Bacon—but as it has kept its secrets from some of the world's greatest cryptanalysts, including some in the CIA and England's MI-8, as well as the largest supercomputers in the world, the attribution remains speculative. But these efforts make a compelling story for readers of the history of science and of code breaking. B&w illus. Agent, Jed Mattes. (On sale Feb. 15)

Reviewed on: 12/13/2004
Release date: 02/01/2005
Genre: Nonfiction
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