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Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts

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In this exhilarating celebration of human ingenuity and perseverance--published all around the world--a trailblazing Italian scholar sifts through our cultural and social behavior in search of the origins of our greatest invention: writing.

The L where a tabletop meets the legs, the T between double doors, the D of an armchair's oval backrest--all around us is an alphabet in things. But how did these shapes make it onto the page, never mind form complex structures such as this sentence? In The Greatest Invention, Silvia Ferrara takes a profound look at how--and how many times--human beings have managed to produce the miracle of written language, traveling back and forth in time and all across the globe to Mesopotamia, Crete, China, Egypt, Central America, Easter Island, and beyond.

With Ferrara as our guide, we examine the enigmas of undeciphered scripts, including famous cases like the Phaistos Disk and the Voynich Manuscript; we touch the knotted, colored strings of the Inca quipu; we study the turtle shells and ox scapulae that bear the earliest Chinese inscriptions; we watch in awe as Sequoyah single-handedly invents a script for the Cherokee language; and we venture to the cutting edge of decipherment, in which high-powered laser scanners bring tears to an engineer's eye.

A code-cracking tour around the globe, The Greatest Invention chronicles a previously uncharted journey, one filled with past flashes of brilliance, present-day scientific research, and a faint, fleeting glimpse of writing's future.

Author: Silvia Ferrara
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 03/01/2022
Pages: 304
Binding Type: Hardcover
Weight: 0.90lbs
Size: 8.40h x 5.70w x 1.30d
ISBN: 9780374601621

Review Citation(s):
Library Journal Prepub Alert 10/01/2021 pg. 23
Kirkus Reviews 11/15/2021
Publishers Weekly 11/22/2021
Booklist 02/01/2022 pg. 10
Library Journal 03/01/2022 pg. 138

About the Author

Silvia Ferrara is a professor of Aegean civilization at the University of Bologna. She studied at University College London and the University of Oxford and, after several years as a researcher in archaeology and linguistics at Oxford, returned to Italy. She has taught at University College London, the University of Oxford, and Sapienza, University of Rome.

Todd Portnowitz is the translator of Go Tell It to the Emperor by Pierluigi Cappello, Midnight in Spoleto by Paolo Valesio, and Long Live Latin by Nicola Gardini. He is the recipient of a Raiziss/de Palchi Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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