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on 27 August 2017
This book combines information about Michael Ventris with enough explanation of the deciphering of Linear B to give the general reader some sense of what Ventris achieved. It is a shame we don't know more about Ventris, his war service and his sad death, but I'm not sure anyone will ever be able to throw more light on his life.
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VINE VOICEon 18 August 2008
This book provides an ideal starting point for the interested layman who is fascinated by the subject matter and intrigued by the people who set about the Herculean task of deciphering Linear B.

Robinson openly admits that this book is not an attempt at an exhaustive biography of Ventris nor of his work; instead, it acts as a taster of a fascinating man and of the conflict between his architectural training and the expectations, both internal and external, associated with that and his obsession with ancient scripts, leading up to his untimely and mysterious death. Excellent value.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 January 2015
This is an enjoyable and fascinating biography of Michael Ventris. He trained as an architect but to his dismay in the mid-twentieth century after the war had destroyed many buildings, he did not get to design or build many projects. From his school days he had been interested in Linear B, the script found on clay tablets in the excavation of Crete and Aegean cities. Sadly his wife did not share this interest.

The name Linear B is given because figures are drawn onto a straight horizontal line and clearly the lines start at the left because some finish halfway. A more basic version from an earlier period was dubbed Linear A. This has still not been deciphered. By this time the hieroglyphs had been deciphered and many scholars of early languages were working on the Cretan puzzle. Some of these people had helped to decipher enemy codes during the war.

Ventris was first to write down his own studies and share them out among the scholars, asking for their feedback and progress which he would circulate. The scholars, which included one woman, were used to jealously hoarding their knowledge, with no central access like today. Ventris however was a fluent speaker of many languages and well travelled, and he saw no reason to keep any knowledge to himself. He did not have the faculty and funding issue of professors, I suppose, though that is not covered. He was also outside the field so they may have resented his intrusion. Each scholar was timid about sharing for another reason - whatever they proposed was likely to be scorned publicly by others. One person had suggested that Linear B script was an early use of Greek, but most people including Ventris thought it must be a Minoan dialect drawn from Etruscan.

As well as promoting discussion and sharing, the great leap Ventris made after many years of work, was to assign the names of towns such as Knossos to some characters, leaving out the final S. There was no great evidence but it would have been better than a guess as syllabic values had been assigned to many characters while others were clearly men, horses and tripods. Once towns were named the rest started to fall into place. Further tablets were constantly being discovered and one turned up which proved the hypothesis. Linear B was archaic Greek.

As well as the portrait of this highly talented man, the book notably introduces us to the topic of deciphering scripts. While not a step by step guide, it allows us to see the methods used at the time and results. The first clay tablet shown is covered with angular squiggles. By the famous tripod tablet at the end, the reader is saying 'of course that is Greek, what else could it be?'

I recommend this read. For those wanting a shorter version, a chapter covers the decipherment in The Code Book by Simon Singh.
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on 10 August 2004
There were many sides to Michael Ventris. A modernist architect reluctantly obsessed with an ancient culture. A Communist who once made more in a lunch time on a shares deal than he was to make in the rest of the year in his day job. Respected by academics world-wide for his work on linear-B, yet he never completed a degree himself. This book provides a surprisingly clear look at the man, yet leaves enough gaps for the reader to be intrigued. You are likely to enjoy this book if you liked Simon Singh's The Code Book or Andrew Hodges The Enigma of Intelligence.
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on 23 February 2014
This is one book that you can read time and time again. If you're interesred in languages or decipherment, it's a must have.
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on 25 November 2016
Tremendous for a brief stint abroad. Perfectly pitched for the interested non-classicist. Made me want to read more about the subject.
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