- Hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday; 1St Edition edition (February 15, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385515154
- ISBN-13: 978-0767914734
- ASIN: 0767914732
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 22 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #533,366 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Friar and the Cipher: Roger Bacon and the Unsolved Mystery of the Most Unusual Manuscript in the World Hardcover – February 15, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The Goldstones, bibliophiles and authors of Out of the Flames and other books, offer a witty biography of controversial 13th-century Dominican friar Roger Bacon, whose Opus Majus "presented a way of thinking, of approaching science, that is virtually unsurpassed in the thousand years since its creation." According to the Goldstones, by challenging the accepted view of the Bible as the source of literal truth, it opened a schism between religion and science. The Church's response, recounted here, was filled with political intrigue, heroes and villains, and enough twists and turns to keep readers immersed. But this book's highlight is the story of a mysterious book discovered in 1912 and named for its owner, Wilfrid Voynich. The manuscript has a coded text enhanced by hundreds of illustrations depicting exotic plants, astronomical phenomena and strange "strings of tiny naked women cavorting in a variety of fountains, waterfalls, and pools." Various experts have attributed the manuscript to Bacon—but as it has kept its secrets from some of the world's greatest cryptanalysts, including some in the CIA and England's MI-8, as well as the largest supercomputers in the world, the attribution remains speculative. But these efforts make a compelling story for readers of the history of science and of code breaking. B&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
In 1919, the discovery of the phrase "To me, Roger Bacon" in a centuries-old manuscript startled the antiquarian book trade. The world of cryptography also took notice, for the manuscript was in a still-unsolved cipher. Therein lies the historical detective story that the Goldstones tell. Essentially, the authors wrap the provenance of the Voynich manuscript, as it is called, around a biography of Roger Bacon, an English scholar of the 1200s. The Goldstones dynamically render the medieval time, describing the intellectual ferment--especially the implications of Aristotle's findings for Catholic doctrine--in which Bacon lived. Regarding Bacon as a pioneer of empiricism in science, the authors' contrast him with logician Thomas Aquinas, champion of biblical revelation as the way to truth. Were Bacon's ideas too hot, hence the cipher? Leaving the question open, the Goldstones then relate a rather rambunctious chain of possession that links John Dee, the Elizabethan magus who might have found the manuscript, with its present owner, Yale University. In engaging, entertaining fashion, the Goldstones offer history readers an intriguing mystery. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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However, most of the writing is covering the contrast between two versions of scientific enquiry. One, drawn from Robert Grosseteste, (who believed the Bible is inspired from God and should be treated with more respect than even Aristotle) bishop of Lincoln, through Roger Bacon is explained as a mathematical, inductive, empirical, experimental method. The second, drawn from Aristotle through Albert Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, is a deductive, verbal, logical, mental construct.
The conflict of the two systems drives most of the book. Goldstone clearly contrasts Grosseteste and Bacon with Magnus and Aquinas. Develops the rise of scholasticism and the universities briefly and clearly.
Explains the challenge that the introduction of Aristotle brought to catholic Europe. Shows how the analysis of Aristotle by Moslem scholars was adopted by Aquinas and then the Catholic Church. Notes that Aristotle acquired the status equal to scripture by the church. Since Aristotle's physics is completely wrong, this killed the progress of science. Galileo, Kepler and Newton finally killed Aristotle with the help of Francis Bacon.
It is worth noting that Grosseteste and Bacon, who trusted the Bible, not Greek philosophy, are now confirmed to be correct. The modern world has totally rejected Aristotle's science and uses Grosseteste's method. Grosseteste became chancellor of Oxford and advocated the inspiration of the Bible. Wycliffe was influenced by this writing.
Develops the effect of Roger Bacon's writing on Francis Bacon. Roger wrote of the four causes of error:
1) Submission to unworthy authority
2) Influence of custom
3) Popular prejudice
4) Concealment of our own ignorance accompanied by an ostentatious display of our own knowledge.
Bacon wrote that the last is the worst: " Since in comparison with what a man knows those things of which he is ignorant are infinite, and without comparison greater and better and more beautiful, he is out of his mind who extols himself in regard to his own knowledge." Still true.
Excellent explanation of the contrast of Bacon's science and Aquinas.
(Page 153) Roger "saw the quest for truth in science is a deeply religious act, without which there could be no genuine triumph of God. The increased knowledge gained by experiment with only serve to prove the primacy of the Scriptures and discredit those who would question God's word as revealed in the Bible. It was the legalistic approach of Aquinas, denying the truth of experiment, that was a threat to God and the church."
Then Goldstone comments, (what I think is the theme of his book):
"If the Church had adopted this view, it would have freed Christianity to be the leader in scientific inquiry without sacrificing the faith of Revelation. It would have allowed the church to promote the search for empirical knowledge within the code of scientific ethics that would have preserved the fundamental beliefs in Christ and scripture that it held dear. . . The church, and refusing to accept this position, did not prevent scientific advancement - although it was postponed for three centuries - it merely assured that when science did regain its momentum it would be as adversary to Christianity, not partner."
Briefly covers the work of John Dee, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, Fredric II and other interesting players. Always makes the connections interesting, even humorous.
Goldstone clearly feels history created the modern world, both because of what happened and of what did not happen. In the last chapter Goldstone quotes a Baconian scholar:
"White saved his harshest condemnations for ecclesiastic zealots, such as Thomas and even Albert, who had been drawn or driven from the paths of science into the dark, tortuous paths of theology, and his highest praise for men who not only were great scientists, but also showed moral courage in maintaining their beliefs in the truth against the repression of theocrats. . . He insisted on real reasoning and the aid of natural science by mathematics; in an age when experimenting was sure to cost a man his reputation, and was likely to cost him his life, he insisted on experimenting and braved all the risks. Few greater men have lived."
Bacon suffered for his faith that scientific understanding would glorify God.
Well written for the general reader. Anyone interested in the history of science, the change from the medieval to the modern will enjoy it. Inspiring to those who struggle for ideas. Highlights the difference between the church's defense of Aristotle and Bible truth.
I enjoyed it.