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Belzoni: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate Hardcover – 15 Nov 2011

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: University of Virginia Press (15 Nov. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813931401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813931401
  • Product Dimensions: 3.8 x 19 x 25.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 625,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


…in this entertaining and graceful account of Belzoni's adventures, Mr. Hume opens a window on the raffish days of early Egyptology, when an Italian giant towered over his competitors. --Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal

Ivor Noël Hume offers an informative and beautifully crafted biography of a man who is often demonized by modern-day scholars. The narrative allows the reader to feel as if they are by Belzoni's side, and also on his side, by successfully exploring the complex character of this remarkable historical figure. --Sally-Ann Ashton, The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

While it s entirely possible to cringe at Belzoni s methods... it's nearly impossible to resist the story of a life... full of 'naïveté, ambition, duplicity, avarice and poverty worthy of Charles Dickens or Henry James, differing only in that it happens to be true. --New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Ivor Noël Hume is former Director of Colonial Williamsburg's archaeological research program and the author of more than twenty books, including Martin's Hundred and A Passion for the Past: The Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist (both published by University of Virginia Press).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Mithra on 20 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There are two or three biographies of Belzoni, the circus strongman turned engineer, not that he was much of a success in this. He then turned to collecting Egyptian antiquities, being opposed by the Italian Drovetti, who had sought to corner the market. If one visits the Egyptian sculpture gallery at the British Museum you will see there a monolithic head with Belzoni's name carved below.
This book makes fascinating reading.
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By Von dean on 3 Feb. 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The Great Adventure! 1 Dec. 2011
By David N. VanMeter - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How many of us as children pretended to play circus strong men and then as we grew, the field of play moved to the sands of Egypt and we were Archaeologists hunting, then admittedly running away from, a fabric wrapped mummy fresh from the pyramid? Belzoni lived this life for us and this is his tale.

First I want to address this book from a physical perspective. The book is beautfilly bound in some of the nicest cloth I have seen on a book. The paper is really nice as well. The dust jacket is well designed and captures your attention. What really amazed me was the number of color plates throughout the book showing the paintings done by Belzoni. They were clear and very pleasant to look at. Some times you would think of this more as a text book than a biography.

For those of you familiar with Ivor Noel Hume's work you will recognize immediately that we are experiencing this along with him. Much in the style of Martin's Hundred this book reads like a mystery where you keep turning pages to find out who did what to whom. Belzoni started as a strong man act and was able to use his wits to be one of the people on the ground floor of early Egyptian archaeology.. The descriptions of Egypt and the work in the tombs paints a picture of stifling heat and horrific labor problems. Not to mention the fact that alot of this was new so creativity and engineering came into play so that these massive artifacts could be moved. Belzoni was able to supply plenty of both. Some of the fun of this book is reading how Belzoni worked with and around some of his rivals on the ground in Egypt.

The unsung hero of this book is Belzoni's wife Sarah. She did so much to support him in his work, often doing the work herself. To her dying day, long after he was gone she was supporting his work and trying to get was due to them for the years of toil.

The secret of this book is revealed if you read A Passion for the Past: The Odyssey of a Transatlantic Archaeologist before reading Belzoni. It is Ivor Noel Hume's biography and quite a pleasant read. What we find is a parallel between Hume's life and Belzoni. Hume had aspirations for the theater in London but ended up taking work as someone digging up artifacts as they rebuilt London. He was able to eventually become the head of archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg for many years. His techniques and ideas are the building blocks of modern archaeology. You can call it the American Dream or whatever you want but you definitely have to admire anyone who can use their wits and succeed as both of these men have done.

I am a simple person and this is a simple review. I think Belzoni will appeal to many different people as it's narrative is well written and the timeline is clear. Whether you enjoy archaeology, biography, or mysteries you will enjoy this book. Thanks Noel for another great read!
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Egyptology as Originally Practiced 28 Jan. 2012
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Quick, name an Egyptologist. For me, the only name I could think of was Howard Carter, who made the sensational King Tutankhamen finds. Because of a witty and instructive current biography, though, there's now another whose name I am glad to know. _Belzoni: The Giant Archeologists Love to Hate_ (University of Virginia Press) is by Ivor Noël Hume, who is himself an archeologist. Hume has books about his own work in more recent archeology, and was the director of Colonial Williamsburg's research program, but he has valuable insider's insights on the work of the almost-forgotten Giovanni Belzoni, who was among the first to bring back treasures from Egypt in the wild days when museums and collectors were glad to get statues and mummy cases and didn't mind that their acquisition came from some sort of smash-and-grab operation. So archeologists do "love to hate" Belzoni, although he cannot be faulted for not having a modern idea of professional propriety. And he was literally a giant, six and a half feet tall at a time when such heights were rarities. How an Italian commoner came to be digging around the Nile for Britain proves to be a lively tale.

Belzoni was born in 1778, one of fourteen children sired by his father, a barber in Padua, Italy. He got training in hydraulic engineering, but when he wound up in England, he had no work prospects except using his height and strength in the fairs and circuses as the "Patagonian Sampson." A chance meeting eventually gave him the prospect of going to Egypt and using machinery to shift the waters of the Nile, but this did not pan out. Belzoni contacted the British consul general in Egypt, Henry Salt, who owed his appointment to his post to a wealthy patron, and knew that one way of currying favor with British aristocrats was to ship them Egyptian antiquities. Salt hired Belzoni for the initial job of going to the mortuary city of Thebes, and finding there the gigantic bust of Ramesses II, commonly called "the Young Memnon." Moving and transporting the huge statue had nothing to do with hydraulics, but it called upon Belzoni's engineering skills. Belzoni proved to be good at patiently dealing with chieftains whose regions held archeological sites, and he was also good at getting labor from the local populace, which Hume says often displayed "their innate reluctance to overwork." In becoming one of the first Egyptologists, he had truly found his calling. He zipped up and down the Nile for three years, raising fallen statues, resurrecting mummies and digging in the sands. He was the first man to open the magnificent temple at Abu Simbel. He discovered the entrance to the second pyramid at Giza. The giant Belzoni also visited the Great Pyramid, crawling through its inner passages and becoming so tightly wedged in that his guides had to pull him out forcibly. Belzoni was to return to Britain in 1819 as a sort of hero, even known as "The Great Belzoni." Back in London, he arranged to set up a replica of the tomb of Seti I in, no less, the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. He hit a problem, though, in trying to get Seti's sarcophagus for the display; Belzoni had excavated it and sent it back, but he and Salt and the British Museum were arguing over costs and ownership, and the display suffered without it. (It wound up in Sir John Soane's Museum.) He wrote a memoir in 1821, however, and it sold briskly: _Narrative of the Operations and Recent Discoveries within the Pyramids, Temples, Tombs, and Excavations in Egypt and Nubia_. By most standards, he had a successful life and he did increase European understanding of the ancient pharaonic world. He was, to his disappointment, never to be accepted as the sort of gentleman scholar he wished to be; he was too Italian, and he had been in the circus, and he had done his digging for financial gain.

Hume displays a great deal of professional sympathy toward Belzoni's work. He thinks unfair the criticism of Belzoni as a looter, citing a passage from Belzoni's writing about crashing into mummy cases; Hume remarks, "That description, and others like it, have led to Belzoni being condemned by modern archaeologists as their profession's most dastardly plunderer - overlooking, of course, that in 1817 there was no archeological profession." Hume can't show that Belzoni was an exemplar of our own concepts of archeological propriety, but he has nicely given us an appreciation of Belzoni's real accomplishments.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Careful, Thoughtful, and Informative Biography 8 Aug. 2012
By Tom King - Published on
Format: Hardcover
It's great to see Noel Hume, with his vast experience in archaeology, apply himself to the biography of such a widely misunderstood (by me, among many others) figure as Belzoni. Noel Hume's portrayal of the man, his wife, and his times places a great deal in context, and helps make explainable and understandable a lot of things that we "modern" archaeologists tend to oversimplify and stereotype. I also appreciate his clarity about what he does NOT know and CANNOT account for -- always good archaeological practice, but not always adhered to by archaeologists who get into popular writing. An entertaining and informative book, which ought to be interesting to anyone (not just archaeologists) with an interest in Egypt, Egyptology, or the Colonial era.
Great book! 15 July 2013
By bcj - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The best book on Belzoni and 19th century Egyptology I have read. I highly recommend it to everyone, not just archaeologists.
Five Stars 13 Aug. 2015
By Adam Kawaguchi - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Great historical storytelling!
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