on 1 September 2003
I bought this book in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York after visiting their exhibition ‘Art of The First Cities’, seduced by its lavish illustrations (over 350, 50 in colour!). Buying books in that kind of situation is usually a mistake and when I first started reading ‘The Story of Writing’ I thought this had been one of those occasions, as almost the first line explains that ‘it does not trace the development of writing … ‘
However, that initial disappointment was quickly dispelled as I became engrossed by Robinson’s brief but clear introduction to writing systems and the following fascinating section on ‘Extinct Writing’, which is divided into chapters each dedicated to the script of a major, ancient civilisation (cuneiform, hieroglyphs, Cretan Linear B, Mayan glyphs etc.).
As those familiar with Robinson’s other books may expect, he focuses significant attention on the people responsible for the decipherment of the extinct languages he discusses. As one myself, I was particularly pleased to learn that it was an (eccentric) architect who paved the way to the understanding of Cretan Linear B.
The methods and history of the translation of ancient or lost languages, simply and effectively explained, were a revelation to me. The few puzzles Robinson has included add significantly to the experience, allowing the reader to feel as if they are participating in the unfolding decipherment. The illustrations are all very well chosen to match the text.
After the rush of excitement produced by the first two thirds of the book, I found the section on ‘Living Writing’ a slight disappointment. Robinson is at his best when enthusing about decipherment past, present and future. I eagerly await the release of the paperback edition of Robinson’s book ‘Lost Languages’ in the confident expectation that it will be wholly as fascinating and well written as the best chapters in ‘The Story of Writing’.
on 22 April 2004
A broad ranging review of writing ancient and modern, this book is packed with photographs and diagrams to support a clearly written overview ofwriting through history. Given the breadth of the subject the treatment isobviously limited in the depth of analysis of each topic, but is eminentlyreadable. A good introductory text, it would also be suited to younger(13+) readers.
on 11 December 2008
The title of this book does not match the book description in the Introduction, which expressly disclaims that it is a historical portrait of writing. Rather, the author tells us that it is "an account of the scripts used in the major civilizations of the ancient world, of the major scripts we use today, and of the underlying principles that unite the two." The book is useful because of its broad presentation of writings and of the decipherment of previously undeciphered texts, but at the same time, precisely because of this breadth, the depth of analysis per script is limited. The book is a good introduction to ancient writing systems.
on 25 February 2011
This is a handy shiny book for reference and good quality photos. Its at a good standing really- not too simple that it can only be advised to people with little or no starting knowledge. Actually recommended as a starter reading list for my university course, and I have referenced it in essays. Its not something you can get too much out from academically, but provides the basics which are handy for general jargon free references when you need them. Plus, can be good revision material.
on 17 April 2012
As it states, not a historical overview of all writing systems but covers the major ones. Although I've always been interested in languages and writing sytems, I've never actually read about the subject. It's very readable and not too academic being aimed at the general reader. It also includes mini puzzles to draw you into the subject further and that's something I didn't expect.
On realising just how complicated certain systems of scripts are, it certainly gives you added respect for those who helped decipher those ancient scripts which had been lost.
A friendly intro to a vast subject.