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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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Silvia Ferrara's The Greatest Invention is a code-cracking tour around the globe, sifting 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 such complex structures 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, taking us back in time 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 Incan khipu; we study the turtle shells and ox scapulae that bear the earliest Chinese inscriptions; we watch in awe as Sequoyah invents a script all on his own; and we venture to the cutting edge of decipherment, where high-powered laser scanners bring tears to an engineer's eye. As Ferrara demonstrates, in the shadows and swirls of these ancient inscriptions, not only are we able to decipher the stories these peoples sought to record, but we can also tease out the timeless truths of human nature, of our ceaseless drive to connect, create, and be remembered.

An exhilarating celebration of human ingenuity and perseverance, The Greatest Invention chronicles an uncharted journey, one filled with past flashes of brilliance, present-day scientific research, and the faint, fleeting echo of writing's future.

Includes Black-and-White Images

Author: Silvia Ferrara
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 03/01/2022
Pages: 304
Binding Type: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780374601621

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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