The Voynich Manuscript: Crowd-sourcing an Uncrackable Cipher

The world’s most mysterious book, the Voynich Manuscript, can now be anyone’s for a mere $8,000. Will one of its new owners be the first to actually read it?

The text, which is being cloned and replicated in a small edition by the Spanish publishing house Siloe, has mesmerized people ever since the man it’s named after, bibliophile Wilfred Voynich, put it up for sale in 1912. The beautifully illustrated vellum folio is rich with text, but here’s the problem. It’s in cipher. Nobody can read it, although many have claimed to over the years. Brilliant cryptographers and plenty of cranks have applied themselves to the task, and every few years an announcement is made that the cipher has finally been cracked. The truth is more like: not quite yet.

The manuscript caused quite a stir in 1921, when William Romaine Newbold said it was written by the philosopher and monk Roger Bacon (1214-1292). According to Newbold, Bacon made discovers centuries before the ones then recorded in history, using a telescope and microscope long before anyone else in Europe. Newbold’s interpretation caused some to start re-writing the history of science.

Read more: JSTOR

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