Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World

Alpha Beta: How 26 Letters Shaped the Western World

Paperback

By (author) John Man

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  • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 320 pages
  • Dimensions: 140mm x 198mm x 23mm | 295g
  • Publication date: 15 May 2006
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 047141574X
  • ISBN 13: 9780471415749
  • Sales rank: 1,122,891

Product description

Praise for Alpha Beta "This book comes at the perfect moment as we rediscover the importance in early reading of cracking the alphabetic code. The story of how that code came into being is a fascinating one, and Man is the ideal writer to tell it." Times Educational Supplement "A richly absorbing exploration, from B.C. to PCs, of the evolution of the most fundamental characters of our cultural history, the alphabet we so much take for granted. John Man writes with a compellingly restless curiosity and immediacy. The ever surprising, exotically detailed narrative in his informative book makes it as undryly enjoyable as a successful archaelogical dig of one of Alan Moorehead s colorful histories of African exploration." David Grambs, author of The Describer s Dictionary and The Endangered English Dictionary "Text that is crisp, taut, and as clear as a bell...A fascinating story with many a beguiling subplot along the way." New Scientist "Letter perfect the best histories and mysteries of our ABC s!" Jeff McQuain, author of Never Enough Words and Power Language

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Author information

JOHN MAN is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in Mongolia. His most recent books are Gobi: Tracking the Desert and The Atlas of the Year 1000. He also wrote The Waorani: Jungle Nomads of Ecuador and The Atlas of D-Day. He lives with his wife and family in London.

Review quote

"Using a highly accessible format sharper than the dull edge of the usual historical text, Alpha Beta traces its subject on a historical journey around the Mediterranian. [It] should appeal to anyone with even a mild interest in ancient civilization and an affinity for language." (The Associated Press, September 10, 2001)

Back cover copy

Praise for Alpha Beta "This book comes at the perfect moment?as we rediscover the importance in early reading of ?cracking the alphabetic code.? The story of how that code came into being is a fascinating one, and Man is the ideal writer to tell it." ?Times Educational Supplement"A richly absorbing exploration, from B.C. to PCs, of the evolution of the most fundamental ?characters? of our cultural history, the alphabet we so much take for granted. John Man writes with a compellingly restless curiosity and immediacy. The ever surprising, exotically detailed narrative in his informative book makes it as undryly enjoyable as a successful archaelogical dig of one of Alan Moorehead's colorful histories of African exploration." ?David Grambs, author of The Describer's Dictionary and The Endangered English Dictionary"Text that is crisp, taut, and as clear as a bell.... A fascinating story with many a beguiling subplot along the way." ?New Scientist"Letter perfect?the best histories and mysteries of our ABC?s!" ?Jeff McQuain, author of Never Enough Words and Power Language

Flap copy

In the tradition of the international bestseller The Universal History of Numbers, John Man has written a wonderfully engaging narrative that could be called the "universal history of letters." It illustrates how our alphabet came to be. How it was influenced by scribes as well as kings, cultures ancient and extant, politics, religion, even mythology. How so many adventures came to accompany its evolution. How truly unique a prize it is.Alpha Beta weaves its way from man's earliest scratches on bone to the first wedge-shaped marks in Mesopotamian clay, from the Pharaoh's hieroglyphics to the Torah's innovative characters, from Homer's epics to the lost culture of the Etruscans, all the way to the Internet explosion. What surfaces is an intriguing blend of characters, controversies, and stories, including that of a perplexing picture disk found on Crete, a robbery in the Egyptian desert, the invention of Cyrillic----and even a continuing mystery surrounding the missing head of British archeologist William Flinders Petrie. We are ever reminded of the alphabet's power. The Romans used it to display their strength, the Greeks to capture their myths, the Israelites to define their god.Ultimately, Alpha Beta offers an extraordinary rediscovery of the alphabet's vital contribution to our sense of identity. For while the Western world of today is divided by languages, it remains largely united by the alphabet. And, as Man makes clear, from pre-alphabetic systems to the recording of human speech, from the oral traditions of our ancestors to the literacy of our children, the deceptive simplicity of "ABC" holds within it a rich, potent, and passionate history.

Table of contents

Foreword. Introduction: Of Giants and Genius. The Trouble with Pictures. The Bearable Burden of Syllables. Letters in the Wilderness. The Search for the Perfect Alphabet. Into Sinai. The Land of Purple. The Selfish Alphabet. The Great Leap Forward. Why We Don't Write Etruscan. The Limits to Growth. Appendix 1. Appendix 2. Bibliography. Acknowledgements. Index.