The fathers of astronomy and physics.
The Church that vowed to silence them.
A book no one can read. And the young man at the center, connecting them all.
In his search for truth, a young Jesuit joins a group that has for centuries been trying to decipher the secrets of a mysterious book known as the Voynich Manuscript. This manuscript has developed a global cult following of cryptographers, none of whom has been able to crack its code. Written in an unknown language and illustrated with enigmatic drawings that no one has been able to interpret, the work first surfaced in the court of Rudolf II of Bohemia.
This same Bohemian court also gave refuge to two of the greatest, and most controversial, scientific minds of all time: famed Dane Tycho Brahe and German Johannes Kepler. These two astronomerstogether with their contemporaries Nicolaus Copernicus and Galileo Galileiwere engaged in the most formidable dialogue in the history of science and laid the groundwork for nearly all of contemporary astronomy and physics.
Is there a connection between Voynich and the brilliant scientists who frequented the court? Could the manuscript perhaps be the codified findings of either Brahe or Kepler, written in a special language to conceal their scientific discoveries from the Church and its brutal Inquisition?
When a key to unlocking Voynich is discovered in the church where the young Jesuit teaches, powerful forces conspire to keep the contents of the manuscript from being decoded. It is then up to the young Jesuit to unlock these secrets hidden in plain sight for centuries.
"[A] remarkable debut, while bearing obvious similarities to The Da Vinci Code, is much more than another pale imitation. ... Joven manages to cleverly blend fact and fiction as well as make the scientific debates of the 16th century relevant and compelling." - Publishers Weekly
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Rated of 5
Carole C. (Conyers, GA)
Ciphers, stars and evolution....
Not quite a page turner, but just about perfect summer reading. This factually based novel was a captivating read. The author had me hooked within the first 30 pages. It is a well researched and well written story spanning centuries of a cipher mystery surrounding an ancient manuscript and the modern group of internet collaborators trying to solve it. In addition, the interwoven stories of the current debate of Evolution versus Intelligent Design; the life of a teacher with one shining and inquisitive student; an insight into the Jesuits perspectives on creation; and, a love story.
The modern world juxtaposed with the still unsolved medieval ciphered Voynich manuscript. The pace of the book picks up in the last third as the reader travels to several locales in the final chapters. The feeling of time pressure and excitement is rather reminiscent of the DaVinci Code.
Care is taken by the author to present his characters and the context in colorful detail. You can sense the dark of the underground passages and feel the rain falling and skies darkening.
Full of historical tidbits about the stars and the work and lives of great scientists and their observations...which are examined in the context of allegations of an alleged undiscovered murder.
The writer so well developed the layered story lines and mysteries that he created an expectation for greater resolution than was given. The sequel will be on my reading list.
Rated of 5
Karen M. (Great Falls, VA)
The Voynich Manuscript Explored- Possible Spoiler
As a lawyer, I love a great mystery about actual ancient documents. The "Rule of Four," "People of the Book," and "The Last Witchfinder" spring to mind as excellent examples. But it takes more than an ancient document to make an excellent mystery. It takes an accomplished creative writer to take the nonfiction information and weave it into an exciting tale. This is the author's weakness in this book.
Enrique Joven, the author of this book is an engineer, science and technology writer. The first 200 pages reflect his expertise in the style of his writing. It is filled with facts and details, but not much character development, plot movement or pacing. Until the last third of the book, the reader is just being fed data.
In addition,Joven and his alter ego, the Jesuit priest Hector, are very upset with the American authors Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder for their book, "Heavenly Intrigue." He believes that his beloved Jesuit priest, Johannes Kepler has been slandered by the couple in the book they published in 2005. And Joven takes quite a few opportunities to complain about the couple and their theories and anyone who gave credence to them (like the Washington Post). Using this book to answer the Gilder's charges was a distraction and felt preachy (pun intended). Intelligent Design versus Creationism is also discussed, another didactic diversion unrelated to the plot. The book needs editing. Is it a mystery or the expansion of a blog piece?
But in the last 100 pages, the book starts to hum. The various attempts to decipher the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, held and studied at Yale University today, are fascinating. Joven sets Father Hector, and the two fellow enthusiasts that Hector meets on a Voynich site on the internet, off to decipher the text. Lots of air miles ensue as they travel to great European sites that provide clues for the group to interpret based on the areas of expertise held by each character.
The book also contains an illuminating discussion of Jesuit history and the Order's contribution to science. And even though I am somewhat learned in the history of the interdependence of astronomy and astrology through time, Joven provides more intriguing data. It is the above accomplishments that convinced me to give the book a "Good" rating.
This is not a good "beach" read. But it would be a nice alternative to watching the Discovery Channel.
Rated of 5
Brianne S. (Slinger, WI)
"The Book of God and Physics"
I really really wanted to like this book. The premise is good...religious mystery, a mysterious book, and a young Jesuit scholar. But sadly, the writing is bad, really really bad. I did not find myself relating to any of the characters and the plot seemed stilted and disjointed. I made it though about half of the book before I gave up. It just didn't seem worth my time to finish it.
Rated of 5
Denise M. (San Diego, CA)
The Book of God and Physics
Enrique Joven ends his prologue with "However, reality sometimes surpasses fiction." This is probably true, however, the techniques of writing good fiction may be what it takes to make that reality interesting to a reader. Although I felt the voice of the narrator charming throughout, I did not feel the real-life mystery of the Voynich Manuscript sufficient to sustain a work of fiction that lacked both tension and drama. I felt the dramatic connections the author intended between fiction and fact were no more than that, intentions. Interesting concept but dramatically flawed.
Rated of 5
Mark O. (Wenatchee, WA)
The past can be present tense
This is a historical novel, not in the usual sense of time travel to the past, but rather the solving of a puzzle using clues from history. Like all good literary puzzles, the intellectual tour is at least half the fun; we learn lots about the history of astronomy and visit Spain, Italy and the Canary Islands. The rules of literary (as opposed to genre) thrillers seem to preclude plot-quickening devices, such as exploding helicopters. So, sometimes the plot seems thick with clue-providing conversations, the characters having impressive stores of historical knowledge at the ready recall. History buffs will enjoy reading the book with a notebook in hand, to keep dates, people and places sorted out, sketching the web woven as the book unfolds. For many of us though, the afterimage of the book will be the estrangement of science and religion and the essential task of reconciliation.
Rated of 5
Josephine J. (Goshen, CT)
Intriguing if flawed
I wish I could have given this book more stars. It combines science, history, and religion in trying to solve the mystery of an untranslatable book, and we certainly learn a lot of all three along the way. But the explanations are often confusing, particularly in the beginning, and the writing is pedestrian. It's a translation, from the Spanish, so it's hard to say where the fault lies. I had a hard time getting into the book at first, but it finally caught me enough to continue - and I'm glad I did. Joven has a first-rate imagination and intelligence which shine through the poor prose.
Enrique Joven holds a doctorate in physics. Since 1991, he has resided in Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he works as a senior engineer at the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias. He writes regularly for various media outlets on subjects ranging from science and new technologies to the Internet.
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