The Greatest Invention by Silvia Ferrara

The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious ScriptsThe Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Silvia Ferrara
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am very much interested in the subject matter, or at least I thought I was. But the writing in this book was so atrocious I couldn’t finish it. Halfway through I gave up. The author is a chatterbox and fills the pages with digressions and blather. I expected a serious discussion of the various scripts mentioned in the title along with many illustrations and comparisons of the unique features of each. Instead we get the author’s opinions about almost everything backed up with nothing more than “It’s obvious that …” or “Everyone agrees that …” except it’s not obvious to me and I doubt everyone agrees.

The chatty informal tone is totally inappropriate and her meanderings make it hard to follow her points. She uses metaphors mercilessly and is constantly telling us what she is going to tell us instead of just telling it. Here’s an example from page 42 shortly after she’s told us a few paragraphs earlier that Linear B is of little interest since it’s been deciphered:

Earlier I mentioned Linear B – let’s talk about it, at least for a bit. The truth is Linear B isn’t of all that much interest to us, since it’s been deciphered. For now, we’ll spare it only a few measly lines. Though we’ll come back to it, I promise, since it’ll be of help when we look at the process of deciphering scripts. So then, Linear B.

Not only is it repeating what she’s just told us, but she takes an entire paragraph to tell us that she’s going to start writing about something. Just start writing about it, for Pete’s sake! You’ve already used up those “few measly lines.” This can’t be explained away by a bad translation.

She punctuates the text with pop culture references and compares rocks and clay tablets to iPhones and bedsheets. She’s also dismissive of all opinions that differ from her own. She typically says things like “this is generally referred to as X but really it is Y” without a convincing explanation as to why conventional terminology is wrong. She mentioned some Japanese term and said you could tell what it means just from the sound of it. No, I couldn’t, and I speak some Japanese. You get the idea. She’s a perfect example of Often Wrong But Never in Doubt.

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