Sunday, April 19, 2009

Book Review: "The Book of God and Physics"

In the tradition of bestselling Spanish literary mysteries like The Club Dumas and The Shadow of the Wind comes Enrique Joven's The Book of God and Physics (forthcoming from William Morrow, first published as El Castillo de las Estrellas in 2007). Joven's work concerns the quest to solve the mysteries of the Voynich Manuscript, the strange and mostly indecipherable work now housed at Yale's Beinecke Library (lots of info at the Wikipedia page). The protagonist, Hector, a Jesuit teacher of high school physics and an amateur Voynich scholar, finds himself drawn into a bit of a mystery when he starts to find clues about the manuscript right in his own institution (and when he realizes that the other 'amateurs' he's been corresponding with about the manuscript aren't entirely what they seem).

As he recounts the strange history of the Voynich, Joven lapses a bit too much into exposition (always the danger of this type of book), and I found his use of a precocious high-schooler armed with reams of Wikipedia printouts as the main source of recited background information slightly problematic. Much of the book also amounts to little more than an extended and strongly-worded critique of Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder's 2004 book Heavenly Intrigue (which postulates that Kepler murdered Tycho Brahe) and potshots at anti-evolutionist belief (entirely justified, to be fair, but perhaps a bit out of place here).

What isn't clear through almost the entire book is just why those who seek to block the 'breaking' of the manuscript are so worried about it (and/or how do they know before its secrets are revealed what it's going to say?). But, given the ending, I guess that's something we'll have to wait for the sequel to discover.

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