The Keys of Egypt: The Race to Read the HieroglyphsPaperback
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- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
- Format: Paperback | 352 pages
- Dimensions: 128mm x 192mm x 26mm | 281g
- Publication date: 3 September 2001
- Publication City/Country: London
- ISBN 10: 0006531458
- ISBN 13: 9780006531456
- Illustrations note: 16 b/w plates (16pp)
- Sales rank: 675,790
A vivid and superbly written account of the unravelling of one of the great intellectual puzzles, set against the backdop of Europe in the Napoleonic era. When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his troops were astonished to discover ancient temples, tombs and statues, all covered with hieroglyphs - the last remnants of an unreadable script and a language lost in time. On their return Egyptomania spread rapidly and the quest to decipher hieroglyphs began in earnest. Jean-Francois Champollion was obsessed with ancient languages from a very young age, and once he heard of the unreadable ancient Egyptian text he had found the challenge to which he would dedicate his life: the decipherment of hieroglyphs. Despite poverty he made gradual progress, although he had to fight against jealous enemies, both professional and political, every step of the way - a dangerous task when in post-Revolutionary France a slip of the tongue could mean ruin, exile or even death. Failure threatened, as he was only one of many attempting to read the hieroglyphs, and his main rival, the English Thomas Young, claimed that decipherment was imminent, but Champollion refused to be distracted and finally, in 1822, he made the decisive breakthrough: he was the first person able to read the ancient Egyptian language in well over a thousand years.
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Husband-and-wife Lesley and Roy Adkins are both archaeologists and Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries of London. They have written many books on archaeological subjects and have just completed The Little Book of Egyptian Hieroglyphs. They also run a colour picture library specialising in archaeology and history. Lesley and Roy recently moved to Devon, where they are embarking on the restoration of an extensive garden.
'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