Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Reading :: The Story of Writing

The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs, & Pictograms, Second Edition
By Andrew Robinson

I just finished reviewing Robinson's slim book on writing, Writing and Script, which is largely a condensed version of this thicker and larger book. The Story of Writing has over 350 illustrations, many of which are photographs. It's a beautiful book, appropriate for display as well as reading, and many of its comparisons and descriptions gave me the same thrill that I got when reading Schmandt-Besserat's books on the origins of writing. What an amazing thing it is that we developed writing, and that we held onto it long enough to make it useful!

Robinson focuses on the origins and development of writing here, and in much more detail than he could in Writing and Script. So he gets to devote whole chapters to (for instance) cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Linear B, Mayan glyphs, Chinese writing, and Japanese writing. He also devotes a whole chapter to undeciphered scripts - a fascinating chapter, and one that helps us to realize just how fragile a writing system can be.

If you're interested in the origins of writing, but you're not an archaeologist, I recommend this book. It's a beautifully illustrated and well written introduction.

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