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Alpha Beta

The idea behind the alphabet - that language with all its wealth of meaning can be recorded with a few meaningless signs - is an extraordinary one. So extraordinary, in fact, that it has occurred only once in human history: in Egypt about 4000 years ago. Alpha Beta follows the emergence of the western alphabet as it evolved into its present form, contributing vital elements to our sense of identity along the way. The Israelites used it to define their God, the Greeks to capture their myths, the Romans to display their power. And today, it seems on the verge of yet another expansion through the internet.


Tracking the alphabet as it leaps from culture to culture, this book weaves discoveries, mysteries and controversies into a story of fundamental historical significance. This was a surprise success, perhaps because the alphabet is a character – an entity that emerged, evolved and affected most cultures on earth. Yet it involved virtually no travel, not even to the Wadi el-Hol on the Nile, where John and Deborah Darnell found the first alphabetical signs, because by chance Deborah came through London and told me the story. What if I had gone to Egypt, Sinai, Lebanon, Iraq, and all the other places in this story? I would have been broke, and/ or dead. Sometimes, simpler is better.

Crisp, taut, clear as a bell… a fascinating story with many a beguiling subplot along the way

New Scientist

The story is a fascinating one, and Man is the ideal writer to tell it. His scholarship seems boundless… he also has a journalist’s ear for a story… straight out of Indiana Jones

Times Educational Supplement

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