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What does it take to crack a code? In the case of Linear B, the cryptic inscription unearthed on tablets in Crete in 1900, it took tenacity, if not outright obsession, and many, many years. The Riddle of the Labyrinth follows three persistent individuals through their independent efforts to discover what language Linear B recorded and just how the script worked. While credit for revealing Linear B’s secrets ultimately went to Michael Ventris, a British architect, Margalit Fox shows that he couldn’t have done it without the work of Alice Kobler, a teacher who used every minute of spare time to systematically catalog characters on 150,000 hand-cut proto punch-cards. Between portraits of this dedicated trio, Fox looks at what Linear B tells us about ancient Greek culture. Available in hardcover, $9.98.

As selective as any memory, history can be used to justify, excuse, and condemn. Margaret MacMillan, author of several acclaimed books of history, most recently The War that Ended Peace, has deeply considered what it means to draw on history to make an argument, prove a point, or advance a complex cultural or political thesis. In Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History, MacMillan examines religious and political applications of history, looks at subtle and less subtle manipulations of the record, and shows how elusive historical truth can be. Available in paperback, $7.98.

As different in tone and setting from the futuristic, fantastic The Bone Clocks as a novel can be, David Mitchell’s historical novel, The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is nonetheless recognizably a Mitchell novel. Written with his inimitable energy, wit, vigorous dialogue, and compelling plot, it also features a protagonist you can’t help but care about. Jacob is a young, earnest newcomer to the Dutch East India Company. He’s determined to do a good job—but the company is corrupt, the rules governing foreigners in the port of Nagasaki are strict, and he soon runs afoul of the authorities by falling in love with a Japanese woman, though he’s engaged to a girl back home... Available in paperback, $7.98.

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- Laurie Greer