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The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs Hardcover – 1 Oct 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Hardcover, 1 Oct 2000
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--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 335 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers; First edition. Hardback. Dust jacket. edition (Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060194391
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060194390
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.9 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,537,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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By Mrs. A. M. Chadwick TOP 1000 REVIEWER 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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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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By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 18 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
If you are like me, you learned at some point that Napoleon's forces had located the Rosetta Stone while invading Egypt, leading to the rediscovery of how to read ancient Egyptian. The writing on the stone contained the same material in Greek, Demotic, and hieroglyphs. From comparing the three texts, scholars deciphered hieroglyphs. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Well, it really wasn't, which is where our school book learning was incomplete. And that's the appeal of this unusual book.
Why do I say the book is unusual? Well, most books about scholarly discoveries focus on the work itself. While this one certainly contains information about how the hieroglyphs were translated, the main focus is on what it was like to be a French scholar in a high visibility area from the time after the French Revolution through the Restoration. The story is a fascinating one of constant intrigue, danger, poverty, and overwhelming odds overcome. This book would qualify as an exciting novel if written that way.
Jean-Francois Champollion was the key translator who finally succeeded in 1822, 23 years after the Rosetta Stone was discovered. He was the son of an impoverished book seller at 16 when the stone was found. His main competitor was an English physician, Thomas Young, who was to turn out to be an implacable foe who denigrated and challenged Champollion's work.
The work would have gone on much more rapidly, but there was a shortage of materials available to Champollion to work on. He also had the difficult task of getting an education and then earning his living as a teacher, and often had to put off working on the hieroglyphs for long periods of time. When the Restoration came, he and his brother were exiled to the small town they started in.
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