Science Matters

The World’s Most Mysterious Manuscript

I thought I’d revisit this post I did back in 2011, because the video is hilarious and makes me smile. Little did I know when I wrote it that I’d write a book with Gordon Rugg a few years later, entitled Blind Spot, which touched upon some of the issues inherent in his Voynich work.

One of many bizarre pages from the Voynich manuscript.

One of many bizarre pages from the Voynich manuscript.

A few years ago, when I was living in Europe, I wrote an article for Wired magazine about a scientist named Gordon Rugg who put forth a novel explanation for what many people call the world’s most mysterious manuscript. The Voynich Manuscript, discovered in Italy in 1912, is a bizarre tome written in an unusual alphabet, language or code that no one — not even the world’s best cryptographers — has been able to decode.

Rugg thinks the book is not written in a code at all, but is instead a colossal hoax. His peer-reviewed journal article described a possible reason and mechanism for this. The Voynich MS was back in the news recently because of some Carbon-14 tests which dated the vellum, or paper, to the early half of the 15th Century (between 1404-1438).

Journalist/iconoclast/Village Voice founder John Wilcock corresponded recently with Rugg to see what he thinks of the new data, since it directly contradicts one of Rugg’s pet theories that the book may be the work of Elizabethan con man Edward Kelley.

Wilcock’s post, which went up a few days ago, hints that hoax theory is not yet dead. Nat Geo ran a video recently about the mysterious book. This clip is from an earlier TV documentary that was delightfully melodramatic.

By the way, there are nearly 200 more Voynich videos on YouTube, more than you’d ever want to watch. I don’t need to learn more, frankly. It’s clear to me that the book is the work of extraterrestrials.

This post first appeared on my old blog on April 8, 2011. I’m moving it here in an effort to rescue my old content.

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New book: The Scientist & the Sociopath is out!

The Scientist and the Sociopath by Joseph D'Agnese

I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, The Scientist and the Sociopath, a collection of some of my best science writing.

At least two of the articles in this collection have already appeared in the prestigious Best American Science Writing anthologies, but it’s nice to have one volume collecting my pieces from Discover, Wired and Seed.

The book, which features a cover by awesome artist Jeroen ten Berge, is something of a milestone: it marks my foray into digital publishing. The title is available immediately as an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords. In the weeks to come, B&N, Apple iPad, Sony, and all the rest will be next. You can download a free sample from all of these sites onto your digital device. You can always find more details on the book page of this website. But for now, here’s the pitch:


A modern-day computer scientist struggles to unlock the secrets of a mysterious book apparently written in a secret code, matching wits with a sociopathic con man who died 400 years ago.


A humble cosmologist conceives one of the biggest theories of the universe—and watches helplessly as the Nobel Prize goes to someone else.


A maverick doctor investigates bizarre ailments using a method that seems shockingly radical in modern medicine: befriending patients and asking them how they feel.

THE SCIENTIST AND THE SOCIOPATH presents remarkable nonfiction stories, some of real-life scientists tackling theories and discoveries that will change our world, others of laymen grappling with some aspect of science in their lives.

Along the way, there are smashed ancient skulls, dead chimps in the back of pickup trucks, flying snakes, lordly windmills, haunted warriors, and beautiful, geeky kids building us a new world, one Lego at a time. 

These all-too-human players overcome their own foibles to make sense of the unknown, touching on everything from the Big Bang theory to tissue engineering, human evolution to cryptography, strange animals, robots, and the secret of human ingenuity. 

Culled from the author’s extensive reporting for magazines such as Discover, Wired and Seed, these tales are bundled together for the very first time. This collection includes two bonus stories on green energy and two never-before-seen stories.

Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!