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The Story of Writing


The Story of Writing
Andrew Robinson
224 pages, 350 illustrations
1995 (Réédition 1999)
Thames & Hudson
ISBN : 0500281564

The Story of Writing is an excellent introduction to the history of writing. Presented as a collection of short illustrated articles, it is very well written. It is an attractive book even for non-specialists.

Writing is perhaps humanity’s greatest invention. Without it there would be no history and no civilization as we know it. How, when and where did writing evolve ? Do alphabets function better than hieroglyphs ? Are we today, in the computer age, moving towards a ‘universal language’ of signs and symbols ?
The Story of Writing is the first book that aims to demystify writing for the general reader. In a succinct and absorbing text, Andrew Robinson explains the interconnection between sound, symbol and script, and goes on to discuss each of the major writing systems, in turn, from cuneiform and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs to alphabet and the script of China and Japan today. We learn about ‘proto-writing’, such as Ice Age symbols, tallies and Amerindian pictographs. We also survey the astonishing multiplicity of alphabet - not merely the Greek, Roman, Hebrew, Arabic and Indian scripts but also the Cherokee ‘alphabet’ and the writing of runes.
Full coverage is given to the story of decipherment, and how the words of past ages have been brought back to life through the efforts of Champollion, Ventris and others. A provocative chapter devoted to as yet undeciphered scripts sets the reader a challenge : can the code of the Indus script, Cretan Linear A, the Phaistos disc or Easter Island ever be broken ? Armchair decipherers who read this book will be well placed to make discoveries that herald the next breakthrough.
A special feature of the book is the step-by-step graphic analysis of the way each script works, with detailed illustrated examples. By the end, even the complete novice will have gained a basic understanding of the world’s major scripts. With its dynamic layout and authoritative text, this is a book to read for pleasure and enlightenment, as well, as an invaluable sourcebook on the world’s major writing systems.

How writing works
1. Reading the Rosetta stone
2. Sound, symbol and script
3. Proto-writing
II. Extinct writing
4. Cuneiform
5. Egyptian hieroglyphs
6. Linear B
7. Mayan glyphs
8. Undeciphered scripts
III. Living writing
9. The first alphabet
10. New alphabets from old
11. Chinese writing
12. Japanese writing
13. From hieroglyphs to alphabet and back

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