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The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphs Paperback – 3 Sep 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; New Ed edition (3 Sept. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006531458
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006531456
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 19.7 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 320,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Jean-François Champollion's biography is neatly interwoven with Napoleonic history and the functions of Egyptian hieroglyphs in The Keys of Egypt. A gifted bookseller's son born in Revolutionary France, Champollion was to become "gripped by energetic enthusiasm" for Egypt. By the age of 12, he was studying several ancient languages and amid a "wave of Egyptomania", he would beat rivals to discover the key to deciphering hieroglyphs. If this was a race, it was a marathon. The breakthrough came after "20 years of obsessive hard work", not through the quick fix solution often thought to have been provided by the Rosetta Stone. The Keys of Egypt details Champollion's life and work, which was hampered by politics, poverty and an almost hypochondriacal series of health problems. Its sources include letters and journals, the authors having undertaken researches in major libraries and museums. Chapters on Champollion's travels in Italy and Egypt include a good smattering of excerpts from his writings. Although no bibliography is given, there is a helpful passage on various levels of further reading. Highly instructive and fast-paced, The Keys of Egypt is perhaps less dramatic than it might be in portraying troubled times and ground-breaking discovery. It is, however, a clearly expressed and wide-ranging book explaining the complexity of hieroglyphic interpretation and revealing the man whose achievements "meant the discovery of a whole new civilization". --Karen Tiley --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

‘A fascinating and elegantly written biography of Champollion, doing justice to one of the great stories of academic heroism.’
Simon Singh, Sunday Telegraph

‘A fascinating account of the race to unlock the cryptic language of the pharaohs’
Giles Milton, Daily Mail


Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By N. Walton on 27 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
The Adkins' are well known authors in the field of Archaeology,
and have always been able to turn what can be a dry and dusty subject(pun intended), into something which can fascinate and draw the reader in.
The tale of the race to read the ancient hieroglyphics is set in a time period of european-wide revolt. Knowing that the results of his own work could go against his very faith, and the beliefs and work of his friends and colleagues, he Battles against what to you or I would be insurmountable obstacles of the body as well as the mind. This amazing tale takes you through a hostile and primitive egpyt, to the underbelly of Napoleonic France and back again into the elite circles of France's Bourgoisie.
The book has a brilliant narrative style, and never dwells too long on any one subject, but gives you enough to allow you to follow their trains of thought. Simply one of the most gripping, and well-told stories I have ever read. You do not need to know anything about archaeology, or history. You don't even need to be massively interested in either to appreciate what is probably one of the most amazing tales of coincidence, treachery, rivalry,human madness and greed.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Mar. 2002
Format: Paperback
For anyone who has heard about Champollion and decipherment of hieroglyphics this is a good combination of biog and description of the process. The image of the millennial, untouched antiquities of Egypt suddenly disturbed from 1798 on stays with you quite painfully. The negative 2-star review was probably written by a descendant of Young! The main problem I have with this book is the constant harking on about Champollion's illnesses, but more crucially the lack of space devoted to the process by which C. went from reading name cartouches to actually deciphering the language's nuts and bolts... But the subject matter is compelling in the extreme, and the romantic but bitchy background of Revolutionary and post-Rev. French academics adds some nice colour.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Dec. 2000
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book -which I would define as a biography both of Champollion and of the hieroglyphic writing decipherment- very much. First of all it defines perfectly the historical and political context in which the discoveries were done. The description of the Napoleon expedition to Egypt is among the best I have ever read. The life of Champollion, the main subject of the book, is very well narrated and put into its context within the history of France, from the Revolution to Louis Philip. The description of the hieroglyphic writing decipherment is painted with a master stroke permitting the reader believe he has acquired some knowledge of the language and the problems of its reading presents. Further insight is provided when it lists different readings of the same name and the causes of this fact.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. A. M. Chadwick on 10 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback
I have been to Egypt, the first time was in 1993, and I made my mind up that I'd like to study Egyptology.

I'm now in my third year of studying Egyptology with Exeter University, although it's not one of my study books I still wanted to read it.

This is an in-depth biography of Jean-François Champollion is interwoven with Napoleons fascination of rediscovering the Egyptian history and culture which he wanted to obtain for France, and Champollion's race to crack the code of the hieroglyphs.

By the age of 12 Jean-François Champollion was studying several ancient languages, which in later years help him to decipher the hieroglyphs. Finally after his 20 years of obsessive hard work he became the first to crack the code.

Reading this book will give you a more in-depth look at both his life and work, (it's by far the best I've read on him), which was hampered by politics, poverty and a huge series of health problems.

I found this book interesting, compulsive and enjoyable to read. It's well worth the money and it's one book I will read again. :-)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 Oct. 2000
Format: Hardcover
The authors have done a marvellous job in telling the story of how hieroglyphs were deciphered by the Frenchman Champollion, and the bitter rivalry between him and other scholars, especially the English scientist Thomas Young. In an exciting story, the action shifts from Napoleon's conquest of Egypt, where the thirsty soldiers went mad because they had never before experienced a mirage, to the political and scholarly intrigues and street fighting of Europe during the Napoleonic wars, and back to Champollion's year-long expedition to Egypt after he had succeeded in reading the hieroglyphs. It is a really good read - a true-life adventure story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. R. Allen on 20 April 2007
Format: Paperback
I saw the book's review by Simon Singh and assumed I'd be getting an Egyptian version of Code Book - but actually there's a lots less about the actual science of decoding of the hieroglyphics than the history surrounding the subject. But nevertheless it was a really interesting read. I started reading it a few days into a Nile cruise - which was a shame because I seemed to be reading sections just after I had visited the sites. I'd recommend reading it just before you visit the sites and then they'll come alive much more.

The life of Champollion is very well covered and you get a strong sense of some of his frustrations. The book also explains the cultural context of the days - the discovery of how to read the hieroglyphs had a big impact on cosmological theories at the time. There were major religio-political repercussions of proving that the ancient Egyptians pre-dated the Bible's version of the creation of the Earth. I thought it also covered the Anglo-French political scene at the time rather well.

A great history book - and there's a bit about reading hieroglyphs as well!
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