The Greatest Invention
A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts
Author: Silvia Ferrara; Translated from the Italian by Todd Portnowitz
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.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux