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The Voynich Manuscript: The Mysterious Code That Has Defied Interpretation… (2004)

by Gerry Kennedy, Rob Churchill (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
287672,684 (3.85)17
In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich, an antiquarian book dealer, stumbled upon a strange volume, its vellum pages covered in a beautiful but unrecognisable script accompanied by equally mystifying pictures. The codex has remained undeciphered from that day to this. Voynich believed the codex to be the work of medieval philosopher Roger Bacon, others that of the Elizabethan mathematician and occultist John Dee. Whoever created the book--which now resides at Yale University--it remains to this day a singular enigma which continues to defy the best efforts of linguists, cryptologists, and scholars. With the benefit of the authors' exhaustive research, readers can hazard their own guesses as to the meaning and provenance of this most beguiling of mysteries.… (more)
  1. 63
    Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini (lorax)
    lorax: Kennedy's book describes a mysterious manuscript with an undeciphered script and strange illustrations, that may be centuries old or only date to the early twentieth century, with an unknown purpose. Serafini's is a book with an undeciphered script and bizarre illustrations.… (more)
  2. 00
    Henry Darger: In the Realms of the Unreal by John M. MacGregor (doomjesse)
  3. 00
    Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World's Undeciphered Scripts by Andrew Robinson (VanishedOne)
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» See also 17 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Numerous reviewers (of this book and others) have outlined the main theories about the Voynich Manuscript, so rather than just repeating them all, I thought I’d give you mine instead.
. Hand-written on vellum sheets (radiocarbon-dated to the early fifteenth century), Beinecke MS408 does at least look mediaeval. In fact, it looks like a lot of things: one section could be a traditional herbal—lots of illustrations of plants, sketched in ink then infilled with watercolour; another section has what look like astrological charts…then there are those weird nude-bathing scenes…oh, and the text itself has never been deciphered. Well, alright then, it looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen.
. This is what has become known as the Voynich Manuscript (after the Polish dealer in rare books who, supposedly, rediscovered it in 1912) and it could almost have been written in a different universe: among those hundreds of plants, for example, not one has ever been unequivocally identified by botanists; a couple do look vaguely familiar (“that one could be a sunflower, that one…a violet?…maybe”) but only vaguely, like the botany of an alien planet. But what has attracted worldwide scrutiny, above all, is the indecipherable writing which fills much of this battered little book: far more beautiful than the illustrations—done in a sort of unidentified copperplate, and without a single crossing-out anywhere—this has so far defied all attempts at decipherment by, among others, some of World War Two’s top code-breakers, or by modern computers.
. Kennedy and Churchill’s book has much about ciphers and decipherment; about historical figures who may have written, owned (or forged) the manuscript; and about all those theories: from the sensible-but-wrong ones, such as that it was written by Roger Bacon in the 13th century, to the wackier suggestions (that it is the work of aliens etc., etc). By the end of it, I’d myself come round to the conclusion that the thing definitely is a forgery—and Wilfred Voynich himself the likeliest forger. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of precisely this sort of thing, knew what could be (and what would not be) in a manuscript from the Middle Ages; he was an expert in mediaeval ciphers; he had his own supply of vellum (even sold it in his shop); and he was an unscrupulous con-man not above swindling a community of monks out of their priceless collection of books and illuminated manuscripts, in return for (his own phrase this) “a cartload of modern trash.”
. In other words, he had everything he needed to forge this thing—except perhaps the imagination. There is, though, one other character in this story: his intelligent and extremely talented wife Ethel, and she was everything he wasn’t: while he was a flamboyant and roguish charmer, a liar and jack-the-lad, she was calculating, intellectual and artistic. A few years earlier she had been smuggling copies of Marx and Engels into pre-revolutionary Russia; a few years later she would be writing novels (the first an international best-seller no less) and composing operas. They were the perfect combination: his knowledge, her imagination. Moreover, the two of them lurched along from one financial crisis to the next, making money then losing it all again. The price Voynich put on his manuscript after its “rediscovery” was $160,000 (in 1912!) and I reckon this was a (failed) attempt to solve all their financial worries, for ever, in one go. He devised the script and wrote the text in his spidery scrawl; she (and this bit is my theory) copied it on to the vellum in her more meticulous handwriting (and, I reckon, did the illustrations as well).
In fact, I can easily imagine it being her idea in the first place. They’re sitting at home in front of the fire one evening, flat broke yet again, him thumbing through a dealer’s catalogue, when Ethel suddenly looks up from her needlepoint:
. “Hey. You know what we should do…”
. You heard it here first. ( )
  justlurking | Jul 4, 2021 |
What a strange manuscript that Wilfred Voynich showed the world in 1912. It was a medieval manuscript with strange writing and drawings of unidentified plants, female nudes, astrological symbols and medicinal herbs. Voynich implied that this was a work of Roger Bacon from the 13th century. For the last hundred years, scholars have tried to decipher the writing and identify the plants. Although several scholars attempted to claim success in breaking the code in portions of the work, no one has been able to solve the mysteries. But the book is also the story of Voynich and several figures from the 16th century who may have touched the manuscript as well as the scientists and cryptologists who have tried to solve the mystery today. Is it genuine dating from the time of Roger Bacon or from the 1500s? Or is it the work of Voynich himself? There are no answers. The manuscript is now in the hands of Yale University where it can be studied and there are images on the web as well as active lists about the manuscript.

In addition to black and white images, the book contains many clear images in color of the manuscript pages as well as other similar works for comparison. Authors Gerry Kennedy and Rob Churchill have meticulously researched the topic and have cited all sources, including several unpublished manuscripts that they used in the preparation of the book. The bibliography includes all important sources (both books and articles) as well as websites. They also include an excellent index. Their explanation of ciphers and codes was fascinating.

The book has asked a lot of questions and presented the facts as we know them today. There are no answers, only further questions. Is this an elaborate hoax or a genuine coded work? We may never know. ( )
2 vote fdholt | Nov 18, 2013 |
An investigation into a manuscript written in cipher and full of mysterious drawings, that was rediscovered in an Italian monastery in 1911 by the book dealer whose name it now bears, but was rumoured to have been written in Middle Ages by the English monk Roger Bacon. Kennedy's interest in the subject was sparked by the discovery that he was related to Wilfrid Voynich's wife Ethel (the daughter of George Boole the mathematician who invented Boolean logic).

The book covers the history of the manuscript since its rediscovery and its putative history in earlier centuries, as well as the numerous failed attempts to decipher it and the many theories concerning its origins and purpose. After an even-handed discussion of all the theories the book ends with the authors telling us their individual conclusions about the Voynich manuscript, and I rather think that I may agree with Rob Churchill about the manuscript's origins. But you will have to read the book in order to find out what he thinks! ( )
1 vote isabelx | Apr 27, 2011 |
I had misgivings when I bought this, fearing a new-age, corn-ball pile of nonsense about this bizarre script. Instead, what I found was a thoughful, insightful investigation of the manuscript and the various attempts to understand it - not one of which involved antedilivian civilization or aliens. ( )
5 vote jcovington | May 21, 2007 |
TBR
  miketroll | Mar 14, 2007 |
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Gerry Kennedyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Churchill, RobAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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In 1912, Wilfrid Voynich, an antiquarian book dealer, stumbled upon a strange volume, its vellum pages covered in a beautiful but unrecognisable script accompanied by equally mystifying pictures. The codex has remained undeciphered from that day to this. Voynich believed the codex to be the work of medieval philosopher Roger Bacon, others that of the Elizabethan mathematician and occultist John Dee. Whoever created the book--which now resides at Yale University--it remains to this day a singular enigma which continues to defy the best efforts of linguists, cryptologists, and scholars. With the benefit of the authors' exhaustive research, readers can hazard their own guesses as to the meaning and provenance of this most beguiling of mysteries.

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