The title of Ferrara’s book, The Greatest Invention, might sound bombastic, but the book isn’t. One reason is Ferrara’s conversational style, rendered into lively English by Todd Portnowitz. Ferrara says she wrote the book the way she talks to friends over dinner, and that’s exactly how it reads. Instead of telling a chronological history of writing, she moves freely from script to script, island to island. It can be a bit dizzying but also great fun, and she is constantly by our side, prodding us with questions, offering speculations, reporting on exciting discoveries ... Ferrara also lets us in on engaging discussions with collaborators ... doubles as a manifesto for collaborative research ... I would have liked to hear more about the fraught moments when writers have met non-writers and taken down their stories, as happened in countless colonial encounters.
Ferrara, a professor of Aegean civilization at the University of Bologna, has crafted a book about a dizzyingly complex topic—the creation of written language—in a way professors too rarely do. Not that there’s any swashbuckling tomb-raiding here, just a careful scientist with a chatty, lucid style and a knack for anecdote ... If one has any doubts that the ancient past deserves our attention as much as the future Ferrara also energetically imagines, this book should dispel them. Encountered at the right time, this book could ignite a passion, even change a life.
... an entertaining and complex look at how written language has evolved ... Ferrara’s survey is intricate and detailed, bolstered by photos and drawings of the various writing forms. The result is an intellectual feast that will enthrall admirers of Nicholas Basbanes’s On Paper: The Everything of Its Two-Thousand-Year History.