This book tells the story of our greatest invention. Or, it almost does. Almost, because while the story has a beginning – in fact, it has many beginnings, not only in Mesopotamia, 3,100 years before the birth of Christ, but also in China, Egypt and Central America – and it certainly has a middle, one that snakes through the painted petroglyphs of Easter Island, through the great machines of empires and across the desks of inspired, brilliant scholars, the end of the story remains to be written.
The invention of writing allowed humans to create a record of their lives and to persist past the limits of their lifetimes. In the shadows and swirls of ancient inscriptions, we can decipher the stories they 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.
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. Professor Silvia Ferrara, a modern-day adventurer who travels the world studying ancient texts, takes us along with her; we touch the knotted, coloured strings of the Incan khipu and consider the case of the Phaistos disk. Ferrara takes us to the cutting edge of decipherment, where high-powered laser scanners bring tears to an engineer’s eye, and further still, to gaze at the outline of writing’s future. The Greatest Invention lifts the words off every page and changes the contours of the world around us – just keep reading.
Part reconnaissance, part time machine, part ode to our complex species, Ferrara's enchanting book unearths not only our writing systems but our humanity itself. -- Amanda Montell, author of Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language
From Crete to Easter Island, everywhere in between, and back again, Ferrara illuminates the sheer magic that the invention of writing actually was, while also sharing the pure joy of being a scientist. Plus, the translation is exquisite. -- John McWhorter, author of Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America
Deftly translated by Portnowitz, Ferrara’s book is more than a cook’s tour of the history, present, and future of writing . . . Ferrara capably conveys the sensory magic of writing: sound made visible and tangible. ― Kirkus Reviews
Silvia Ferrara is enviably expert in an enviably attractive and important field - early scripts and their decipherment or (as cryptographers would have it) decoding. Dr Ferrara sheds swathes of light on how we developed writing systems throughout the world, and her own specialism, Cypro-Minoan, reveals that two islands, Cyprus and Crete, are critical to one truly "great invention", the advancement of human civilisation. -- Paul Cartledge, author of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece and The Spartans
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 Archeology and Linguistics at Oxford, she returned to Italy. She has taught at University College London, the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and the Sapienza University of Rome.