The total of my cipher mystery books purchases for 2017 was £260, which was actually a little lower than recent years (it’s been fairly quiet). For a change this year, I thought I’d list them here in all their eclectic glory.

I’ve lightly annotated each of these cipher mystery books, to cast a little glancing light on the areas of research I’ve been working on. Make of them all what you will!

* The Palaeography of Gothic Manuscript Books: From the Twelfth to the Early Sixteenth Century (Cambridge Studies in Palaeography and Codicology), by Albert Derolez.

Magisterial yet accessible, a really great book on Gothic palaeography. Of course, you then have to try it out in the field for a decade to be any good at it, but… palaeography is what it is. 😉

* A Man of Misconceptions: The Life of an Eccentric in an Age of Change, by John Glassie

Basically, the best-known modern biography of Athanasius Kircher. Perhaps a bit too generous towards its subject in places for my tastes, but it certainly covers all the ground. My focus when I bought this was on the people who carried on Kircher’s legacy, which turned out to be a very small group indeed.

* Regiomontanus: His Life and Work: Volume 1, by Ernst Zinner

Epic, detailed, stunning evocation of Regiomontanus. I’ve long wanted to read this, but until this year (when I found myself wanting to know whether Regiomontanus might have seen Vat. Gr. 1291 when it arrived in Rome), I could never quite justify the cost. Regardless, it turns out that it’s well worth the money – recommended.

* The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau: how Australia’s signals-intelligence network helped win the Pacific War, by David Dufty (ebook).

Nice little book on Australia’s surprising war-time cryptology effort, something that tends to get trampled by gung-ho American cryptology historians. And no, it’s not all about Eric Nave (he actually plays a surprisingly small part in this account).

* Comment ils ont trouvé un trésor, by Alain Cloarec

Fairly lightweight, but helped me understand some of the practicalities of French treasure hunting law. But that’s another story…

* Maps, Mystery and Interpretation: 2. The Mystery: Oak Island Speculation: Volume 2, by G. J. Bath
* Maps, Mystery and Interpretation: 3. Interpretation: Sizing Up the Money Pit: Volume 3, by G. J. Bath
* Anson’s Gold: and the Secret to Captain Kidd’s Charts, by George Edmunds

I reviewed Bath’s books and Edmunds’ book in my blog.

* The Sirius Mystery: New Scientific Evidence for Alien Contact, by Robert K.G. Temple

Cipher Mysteries commenter Astronomical challenged me to read this, to make up my own mind about Temple’s Sirius theories (though on 1st April, so it’s hard to be sure). However… now that it has arrived, I just haven’t been able to get excited enough to actually pick it up, so it’s still waiting patiently on my bookshelf.

* The Templars: The Secret History Revealed, by Barbara Frale

Oh my, what an excellent little book this is. Anyone wanting to read about the Templars should start here. Highly recommended!

* Playing the Numbers: Gambling in Harlem between the Wars, by Shane White, Stephen Garton, Dr. Stephen Robertson, and Graham White

Very interesting book on the subculture of gambling that I touched on in my blog.

* Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters, by Mark Dunn,

Funky littl novl that msss around with th problms of writing whn crtain lttrs ar not allowd to b usd. 😉

* Generation of Vipers, by Philip Wylie

The book that Paul Rubin was supposed to be a follower of. Interesting (and surprisingly influential) mid-20th century nonsense.

* The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, by Talbot, David

Another book triggered by the release of the FBI papers concerning Paul Rubin: I wanted to know more about Allen Dulles (whose surname seems to appear in Paul Rubin’s cipher, or is at least in his covertext).

* Sleepwalkers, by Arthur Koestler

A readable (but now rather dated) account of the development of astronomy.

* Humanism, Scholasticism, and the Theology and Preaching of Domenico de’ Domenichi in the Italian Renaissance, by Martin F. Ederer.

I wanted to know more about Domenico de’ Domenichi (who owned Vat. Gr. 1291), and this is probably the best book on the subject out there.

* The Renaissance in Rome, by Charles L. Stinger

I bought this to cast a light on what was going on in Rome circa 1460-1470, where some of my secondary Voynich research paths are now starting to vaguely lead towards.

* French Painting in the Time of Jean de Berry, by Millard Meiss

Splendidly detailed book, but don’t buy it expecting lots of extraordinary pictures, it’s mainly fine-detailed history. 🙂

* Solution of the Voynich Manuscript, by Leo Levitov

I’ve been meaning to buy a copy of this for myself for ages, and finally got round to it. However, I couldn’t bring myself to pony up the far greater amount for Joseph Martin Feely’s “Roger Bacon’s Cipher; The Right Key Found”, so if anyone just happens to have a digital copy of that, please let me know. 😉

* From Magic to Science: Essays on the Scientific Twilight, by Charles Singer.

Though I’ve ordered this, it hasn’t yet arrived. This was prompted by an updated page on Rene Zandbergen’s site which quotes Erwin Panofsky’s thoughts on the Voynich Manuscript in a less abbreviated form than has been the case.

18 thoughts on “2017: cipher mystery books I’ve bought this year…

  1. Nick – a great pile of holiday reading.

    I followed your link to Rene Zandbergen’s website and found it, as ever, more authoritative than helpful since any means to access the content of the sources from which Zandbergen’s short essay derives is denied us.

    I was surprised, especially, to find no thanks offered to Richard Santacoloma, who kindly travelled to the archives to transcribe several of Anne Nill’s letters at Rene’s request. That Santacoloma then took the time and effort to type it all up online, for the benefit of us all, surely deserves thanks from us all.

    For those interested, Santacoloma’s post is

  2. correction – and apology to Rene.
    I see now that there a passing mention of Santacoloma occurs in Rene’s footnote13. Please consider my link an expansion of that note.

  3. Jackie Speel on December 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm said:

    I acquired Joscelyn Godwin’s Athanasius Kircher, Thames and Hudson, 1979: do you have it?

  4. Jackie Speel: much as I like Godwin’s other books, I haven’t (yet) got that one. 🙁 I do, however, have Paula Findlen’s “Athanasius Kircher: The Last Man Who Knew Everything”, which is an appropriately eclectic collection of essays on Kircher. 🙂

  5. Jackie Speel on December 27, 2017 at 6:04 pm said:

    Apart from a few Theosophical and Atlantis-centric references a factual work, with many illustrations.

  6. NP, with respect to the lifelong research you and others put into de-cyphering old and mysterious manuscripts, what might they contain they we don’t already know?
    Is there a wisdom hidden in the writings, an ancient and unknown relationship between man and nature?

  7. Pete: in my experience, wondering about the ‘why’ behind cipher mysteries has always proved a complete waste of time – not that anything I say would be enough to dissuade people from running down the near-infinite number of ‘might have been’ rabbit-holes splaying off in every direction and dimension.

  8. Then you have no compass in your search?

  9. Petebowes: what kind of stupid compass points in every direction at once?

  10. Yours mate, by the sound of it.

  11. Petebowes: ah, my compass is that-which-is – despite being a very much fainter signal, it only ever points in a single direction.

  12. Mine points three ways: sex, drugs and rock and roll … all within reason.

  13. Petebowes: I’m not sure you’ve quite grasped the ineffable point of the sex, drugs and rock and roll (un)holy trinity, which is that it is about reckless immoderation. I’d have thought that trying to pursue it “within reason” would be like being a skydiver who only jumps off sofas. Onto deep pile carpets. In fluffy slippers.

  14. petebowes on December 28, 2017 at 11:03 am said:

    Sounds like a few Englishmen I know.

    Within reason, from where I come from, means that you can do something ineffable for a lifetime without being arrested.

  15. john sanders on December 28, 2017 at 11:09 am said:

    I’m finding Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean a very interesting diversion from my usual diet and the title is somewhat misnomeric; whilst I won’t give too much away, it has a lot to do with Jews and their Breathren pals trapsing about the globe in a ‘compass free sea’, looking to rob and plunder, or at least pull off trick deals to piss off the Dons and taunt the inqisitors who are unrelenting in their efforts to either destroy them or drive them from the Kingdom. Temporary safe havens from where they can pay to rest up like Holland or Bohemia are the most favoured. Places where they can cavort naked, procreate with gay abandon like God intended, all in the name of peace and goodwill to all who believe in free love; sharing meager means with some Adamite Jesus freaks who generally have views. Haven’t finished it yet but sure enough when we get into the fifteenth century they’ll all be at each others throats and I just hope someone with an historical bent will be there to give us a look into an interesting different world that might have been.

  16. petebowes: as you wish. Nice slippers, though!

  17. john sanders on December 29, 2017 at 3:52 am said:

    Another mystery Jewish book that I’d love to read, one which may give us an idea of what was going on in mysterious George Joseph Marshall’s sick noggin, might be found in his own poetic works ‘Just You & I’ of 1931. It had been available through Amazon UK but is now out of stock.

  18. Mark Knowles on January 4, 2018 at 8:52 pm said:


    Have you read “A Material History of Medieval and Early Modern Ciphers: Cryptography and the History of Literacy” by Katherine Ellison and Susan Kim?

    If you have read this book, what do you make of it?

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