Although a little dated (it was first written in 1968 – thankfully I had the revised & updated edition, which I believe was released in the 80s), I found this book enjoyable and easy to read – and I think anyone interested in the history of languages in the ancient world will probably feel the same way.
First, there is a look at the basic principles of cryptography and how it can be used to ‘unlock’ ancient unknown scripts. Then, Gordon introduces a number of the world’s ancient languages (Sumerian, Hittite, Linear B, etc.) from both a historical standpoint and linguistic overview. He breaks down the core principles of each language’s decipherment, but doesn’t include so much as to overwhelm the layperson.
I also thought the book was helpful in the sense that it traced how each language may have influenced the others, ie. potential cases of borrowing or assimilation. However, when you read this, keep in mind that 25 years of scholarship has passed since the book was updated, so there are many new discoveries/decipherments/breakthroughs on the languages that have come since then.
But, it’s a worthwhile read! And he ends it well: there are sample translations from Egyptian/Hurrian/Sumerian/etc. texts in the last chapter, from a myth to a folktale to a legal document, and so forth. It’s a good breadth of examples, and interesting to boot.
Rating: 3 coffees out of 5