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The Friar And The Cipher: Roger Bacon And The Unsolved Mystery Of The Most Unusual Manuscript In The World (2005)

The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World (2005)
3.5 of 5 Votes: 5
0767914732 (ISBN13: 9780767914734)
doubleday books
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The Friar And The Cipher: Roger Bacon...
The Friar And The Cipher: Roger Bacon And The Unsolved Mystery Of The Most Unusual Manuscript In The World (2005)

About book: I picked up this book from the library while I was there getting some other reading material for the break, and it looked extremely promising. It is about Roger Bacon and the undeciphered Voynich manuscript. The book started off very promisingly, recounting the modern rediscovery of the book, but then it changed course. Instead of being about Bacon and the manuscript, the authors decided to conduct a little field trip through the history of philosophy and scholasticism. Now I wouldn't normally object to this, as most readers are unlikely to have the background knowledge to understand the historical context of Bacon's life, but as a student of history it always pisses me off with writers attempt to appeal to a popular audience by shoehorning history into a narrative form at the expense of accuracy. These authors clearly had a goal of rehabilitating Bacon's reputation, particularly vis a vis Thomas Aquinas, but in order to do so they chose to distort the history of the period. I'm no expert on 13th century Europe, so if I was able to notice errors in their presentation, I can only imagine how appalling it would be for someone with a more intimate knowledge of the subject.My ultimate objection to the book was not even the issue of historical accuracy, which I have gradually come to accept will be of poor quality in most things I pick up. Rather, the authors were so focused on painting their picture of Bacon the hero of experimental science versus Aquinas and the anti-scientific forces of dogmatic religion, they largely neglected what could have been the most interesting part of the book, namely the manuscript and the unsuccessful efforts of virtually every major cryptographer of the 20th century to decipher it. Instead of writing on what the book claimed to be about, the authors seemed to be simultaneously trying to write a critical biography of Aquinas and to restore Bacon's status as first-tier figure in the history of science. The end result is a disappointing example of the sort of muddled writing that happens when you fail to stick to the subject you've chosen. If you are really interested in the manuscript, just read the first chapter and the last four chapters, but otherwise wouldn't recommend it.

For a book titled "The Friar and the Cipher", I really expected more about the cipher. The book was billed as being about this strange manuscript from the 13th century, yet it barely got any mention in the book. Most of the 300 pages were devoted to the history/evolution of philosophy and science (and their clashes with the catholic church), from Plato all the way to Elizabethan England (and slightly beyond). While a very good read, I would have liked to have read more about the manuscript. If the "star" of the book only gets featured in about 30 pages, something is a bit off. If the authors had given that part of their book more attention, this could have easily attained 4-5 stars.
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Doc Kinne
There are reviews which complain that this book is not quite what it advertises itself to be. Nominally about its cryptographic manuscript, it spends at least 80% of its time in an extended history lesson of Roger, & then Francis, Bacon. Now since my knowledge of these men was not the best, for myself, I could forgive this. However, if you're looking for greater details on the manuscript you'll probably be disappointed. Having said that, the ultimate conclusion is that we still don't know much about the manuscript.
It's a really cool book and very, very readable history. It mentioned Possession on the back, so I thought I'd have to like it.It is one of the most entertaining and fun historical books I’ve read in some time. I learned a lot about Roger Bacon (not to be confused with Francis Bacon, though he figures in the story too) and many other historical characters. Perhaps the most amusing anecdote was about the death of Francis Bacon, who caught a chill while attempting to preserve the body of a bird using snow as part of a scientific experiment. Death by scientific inquiry. A good way to go.
This book was kind of weird, because I was all excited to read about the ~mysterious~ Voynich manuscript, but that only took up like 3 chapters at the end. The vast majority of the book was a brief history of Roger Bacon and the development of scientific thought in Europe. Which was kind of interesting, but not really what I was here for. Plus I noticed at least one glaring (to me) historical inaccuracy, where the authors seemed to say that Mary Queen of Scots' claim to the English throne came through Henry VIII's older brother Arthur - which is obviously false, her claim is through one of Henry's sisters. It concerned me that they got so basic a fact wrong (basic because Arthur having legitimate children changes everything that happened in English history!). Maybe I misunderstood what they were saying, because that seems like something someone should've caught. It just made me question how accurate the rest of the book was.I also really, really enjoyed those last few chapters that were actually about the manuscript and cryptography. I guess this just wasn't the book I was looking for on this subject.
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