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The Story of Writing

Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms

Andrew Robinson


Without writing there would be no history and no civilization as we know it. But how, when and where did writing evolve?


In an absorbing text, Andrew Robinson explains the interconnection between sound, symbol and script. He discusses each of the major writing systems in turn, from cuneiform and Egyptian and Mayan hieroglyphs to the scripts of China and Japan, as well as others such as the Cherokee ‘alphabet’ and the writing of runes. Full coverage is given to the history of decipherment, and a provocative chapter devoted to undeciphered scripts: can these codes ever be broken?

In this new edition of the book, the author reveals the latest discoveries to have an impact on the history of writing, including the Tabula Cortonensis showing Etruscan symbols, and a seal from Turkmenistan that could solve the mystery of how Chinese writing evolved. He also discusses how the digital revolution has not, despite predictions, spelled doom for the printed book. In addition, the table of Maya glyphs has been updated.

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'The most accessible and informative book available on the major writing systems of the world'
History Today

'Delightful to read … difficult to put down once started'
Communication Arts

'Excellent … Robinson covers so much ground in such short order that you feel he must have got something wrong or left out something important. He hasn’t'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Paperback

Edition Type: New Edition

Size: 25.4 x 19.2 cm

Extent: 232 pp

Publication date: 16 April 2007

ISBN: 9780500286609

Contents List

I. 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 Alphabets – and Back? • Postscript in the New Millennium

About the Author

Andrew Robinson is the author of twenty-five books in the arts and sciences, nine of them on aspects of Indian history and culture. They include two definitive biographies: Satyajit Ray: The Inner Eye, described by V. S. Naipaul as ‘an extraordinarily good, detailed and selfless book’, and the coauthored Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man. He holds degrees from Oxford University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, has been a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge, and is currently a Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society.

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