Summary and book reviews of The Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox

The Riddle of the Labyrinth

The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

By Margalit Fox

The Riddle of the Labyrinth
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: May 2013,
    384 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2014,
    400 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

In the tradition of Simon Winchester and Dava Sobel, The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code tells one of the most intriguing stories in the history of language, masterfully blending history, linguistics, and cryptology with an elegantly wrought narrative.

When famed archaeologist Arthur Evans unearthed the ruins of a sophisticated Bronze Age civilization that flowered on Crete 1,000 years before Greece's Classical Age, he discovered a cache of ancient tablets, Europe's earliest written records. For half a century, the meaning of the inscriptions, and even the language in which they were written, would remain a mystery.

Award-winning New York Times journalist Margalit Fox's riveting real-life intellectual detective story travels from the Bronze Age Aegean - the era of Odysseus, Agamemnon, and Helen - to the turn of the 20th century and the work of charismatic English archeologist Arthur Evans, to the colorful personal stories of the decipherers. These include Michael Ventris, the brilliant amateur who deciphered the script but met with a sudden, mysterious death that may have been a direct consequence of the deipherment; and Alice Kober, the unsung heroine of the story whose painstaking work allowed Ventris to crack the code.

Prologue
Buried Treasure
Knossos, Crete, 1900

The tablet, when it emerged from the ground, was in nearly perfect condition. A long, narrow rectangle of earthen clay, it tapered toward the ends, resembling a palm leaf in shape. One end was broken: That was not surprising, after three thousand years. But the rest of the tablet was intact, and on it, inscribed numbers were plainly visible. Alongside the numbers was a series of bewildering symbols, which looked like none ever seen.

In the coming weeks, workmen would lift from the earth dozens more tablets, some fractured beyond repair, others completely undamaged. All were incised with the same curious symbols, including these:
Linear A Script

The tablets were what Arthur Evans had come to Crete to find. It had taken him only a week to locate the first one, but his discovery would forever change the face of ancient history.

* * *

On Mar ch 23, 19OO , Evans, a few carefully chosen assistants, and thirty local workmen had broken ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse

Digging into archaeology, linguistics, history and cryptography, Margalit Fox’s The Riddle of the Labyrinth solves this jigsaw puzzle for us in an exciting and easily understandable way...One can’t help but remember President Kennedy’s immortal words: “We do these things not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.” In that sense Fox’s book is not just an ode to Alice Kober and the men behind Linear B but to all humanity - to the many who have looked at a challenge and soldiered on because they recognized that the way through would satiate our infinite thirst for knowledge.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

Full Review Members Only (1221 words).

Media Reviews
The New York Times

In explaining the problem and eventual solution, Ms. Fox makes the complexities of linguistic scholarship accessible, weaving observations about language into the stories of her primary characters

Publishers Weekly

A fascinating yarn centered around an unlikely heroine ... Fox's deft explanations of the script-solving process allow readers to share in the mental detective work of cracking the lost language.

Booklist

Starred Review. Fox is a talented storyteller, and she creates an atmosphere of almost nail-biting suspense. ... This one deserves shelf space along such classics of the genre as Simon Singh's The Code Book.

Library Journal

This exciting linguistic adventure, intended for the nonspecialist, is recommended to anyone interested in archaeological mysteries—and even to crossword puzzle enthusiasts!

Author Blurb Toby Lester, author of Da Vinci's Ghost
Fox recreates the emergence of one of history's most vexing puzzles—and then puts readers alongside the remarkable figures who, brilliantly, obsessively, and even tragically, devoted their lives to solving it. Forget the Da Vinci Code. This is the real thing.

Author Blurb Stephen Mitchell, translator of Gilgamesh and the Iliad
Margalit Fox describes the decipherment of Linear B in such lucid detail that any reader can follow the steps and participate in the thrill of discovery.

Reader Reviews
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

The Rosetta Stone

In The Riddle of the Labyrinth, Margalit Fox describes the challenge of decoding Linear B: "An unknown script used to write an unknown language is a locked-room mystery: Somehow, the decipherer must finesse his way into a tightly closed system that offers few external clues. If he is very lucky, he will have the help of a bilingual inscription like the Rosetta Stone, which furnished the key to deciphering the hieroglyphs of ancient Egypt. Without such an inscription, his task is all but impossible."

Rosetta StoneIn 1799, in the small village of el-Rashid in the Egyptian delta, soldiers from Napoleon's army discovered the tablet. Because the French troops referred to el-Rashid as Rosetta, the stone came to be known as the Rosetta Stone. After Napoleon...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Riddle of the Labyrinth, try these:

  • Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes jacket

    Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes

    by Daniel L. Everett

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    A riveting account of the astonishing experiences and discoveries made by linguist Daniel Everett while he lived with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil.

  • Is That a Fish in Your Ear? jacket

    Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

    by David Bellos

    Published Feb 2013

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Funny and surprising on every page, Is That a Fish in Your Ear? offers readers new insight into the mystery of how we come to know what someone else means - whether we wish to understand Astérix cartoons or a foreign head of state.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member


Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    Mrs. Hemingway
    by Naomi Wood
    Naomi Wood's latest novel, Mrs. Hemingway, is a fictionalized biography covering in turn writer...
  • Book Jacket
    The Stranger on the Train
    by Abbie Taylor
    The opening chapter of Abbie Taylor's debut novel, The Stranger on the Train, took me right back to ...
  • Book Jacket
    Night Film
    by Marisha Pessl
    One of the central tenets of Hinduism states that the world as we know it is just an illusion –...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

The City
by Dean Koontz

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

  1.  90Tomlinson Hill:
    Chris Tomlinson

All Discussions

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.