Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs

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A child prodigy and brilliant linguist born in 1790, French scholar Jean François Champollion began his quest to crack the hieroglyphic code while still a schoolboy, beginning with the Rosetta Stone. For nearly two decades, he slowly pieced together the puzzle, always feeling the intense jealousy of his rivals in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, who were also striving to stake their claim to the national pride and scientific immortality that would be bestowed on the ...
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New York, NY 2000 Hard Cover First Edition, First Printing Collectible-New in New jacket First Edition, First Printing BRAND NEW & Collectible. Biography of French gifted ... linguist and master of many languages Jean-Francois Champollion (1790-1832), the first to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs in 1822. Set against a background of academic intrigue and international rivalry, with colorful personalities vying to be the first to unveil the secrets of the Rosetta Stone. Narrated in 10 chapters. 1, The Land of Egypt; 2, The Pupil; 3, The City; 4, The Teacher; 5, The Physician; 6, Cleopatra; 7, An Acquaintance of the King; 8, Master of Secrets; 9, The Translator; and, 10, ...Who Gave Words & Script. Read more Show Less

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Overview

A child prodigy and brilliant linguist born in 1790, French scholar Jean François Champollion began his quest to crack the hieroglyphic code while still a schoolboy, beginning with the Rosetta Stone. For nearly two decades, he slowly pieced together the puzzle, always feeling the intense jealousy of his rivals in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Sweden, who were also striving to stake their claim to the national pride and scientific immortality that would be bestowed on the victor.

The Keys of Egypt presents his dogged pursuit as a riveting intellectual detective story, bringing vividly to life one of the milestones of scientific achievement, Richly narrated and flavored with fascinating historical detail, it reads like a novel, culminating in Champollion's 1822 triumph, when he finally solved the riddle of the hieroglyphs and revealed the glory of ancient Egypt to the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When the brilliant son of a poor French bookseller decided, at the age of 16, that he would devote his life to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, he had no idea that he was about to embark on an amazing journey. Post-Revolution France was hardly the ideal place for such an endeavor -- it was a dangerous place, and enemies were lurking behind every corner. When the young Frenchman found himself in an intense competition with an English physician, his goal became even harder to reach. Would Jean-François Champollion become the first to unlock the mystery?
Birmingham Post
The authors have done great service to Champollion. Their biography is graphic, gripping and a great read.
Daily Mail
The Keys of Egypt is a worthy tribute to the man who named—and unlocked—the Valley of the Kings.
Daily Mail (London)
The Keys of Egypt is a worthy tribute to the man who named--and unlocked--the Valley of the Kings.
Eastern Daily Press
...the Adkin's narrative grips right from its electrifying opening. What might in less able hands have been a dry, impenetrable academic study is rendered as compelling as the most spellbinding fictional thriller. This is narrative history at its beguiling best in which the characters breathe and the complex is made accessible. Champollion is revealed as a real-life hero, a figure to rank alongside those remarkable Bletchley Park codebreakers from another age...An enterprising television or film producer would do well to read this book. That is, if the rights haven't already been sold!
Herald (Glasgow)
The quality of information and understandable detail presented by the Adkinses is impressive, for this is not an easy subject.
Irish Times
What they [the authors] have done is to produce an admirable lucid introduction to the decipherment of heiroglyphics. Writing up intellectual rather than physical adventure in an exciting way is always a stern test for a writer and the co-authors have done particularly well.
Jersey Evening Post
...the Adkin's narrative grips right from its electrifying opening. What might in less able hands have been a dry, impenetrable academic study is rendered as compelling as the most spellbinding fictional thriller. This is narrative history at its beguiling. A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, The Keys of Egypt is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual adventure into high drama.
London Times
Champollion's life is the stuff of a 19th-century novel...A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, this is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual pursuit into high drama.
Mail on Sunday
Lesley and Roy Adkins have written a classic.
Mail on Sunday
Lesley and Roy Adkins have written a classic.
Mail on Sunday (London)
Lesley and Roy Adkins have written a classic.
New Scientist
A riveting account of the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.
News Letter Northern Ireland
The story of Champollion's struggle with the fiendishly difficult task he set himself makes thrilling reading.
South Wales Argus (Newport)
At a quick glance, a book about the race to decipher the Egyptian heiroglyphics looks about as interesting as a book about watching paint dry. But that is where you'd be wrong. This book combines wars and invasions...But it is also a tale of one man's struggle against the odds,, and his final success - always good material for a story.
Sunday Telegraph
A ripping tale of obsession and rivalry.
Sunday Telegraph
A ripping tale of obsession and rivalry.
Sunday Telegraph (London)
A ripping tale of obsession and rivalry.
Sunday Times
The Rosetta Stone has often been presented as if it alone made possible the reading of the past, but as Lesley and Roy Adkins shoe in The Keys of Egypt nothing is ever so simple...Champollion's story is a food one...One of the most enjoyable aspects of the heiroglyph story is the race between Champollion and his competitors, particuarly Thomas Young.
Times (London)
A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, The Keys of Egypt is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual adventure into high drama.
Times (London)
Champollion's life is the stuff of a 19th-century novel...A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, this is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual pursuit into high drama.
Times (London)
A first-rate blend of high scholarship and great narrative pace, The Keys of Egypt is one of those rare, wondrous books which turns an intellectual adventure into high drama.
Virginian Pilot
the Adkins book has crisply-and most delightfully-erased the fuzziness [and] leaves no doubt about the actual-and deserving-winnner of the contest.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Set against a background of academic intrigue and international rivalry, with colorful personalities vying to be the first to unveil the meaning behind ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the story of the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone has all the ingredients of a dramatic scientific quest. Disappointingly, the Adkinses, though experienced writers and consultants on archaeology, don't make the grade in this bland, lackluster account. Instead of approaching the subject matter with new questions and fresh analysis, the authors' predictable narrative adds little to our knowledge of either the French polyglot Jean-Fran ois Champollion (1790-1832), the genius who deciphered the stone, or of the decipherment process itself. The authors focus primarily on the life and education of Champollion, his extraordinary linguistic skills and his competition with Englishman Thomas Young, who was also seeking to decipher hieroglyphs. They maintain, rather inaccurately, that Champollion has not received due recognition, which they feel has instead gone to Young. Their description of the French occupation of Egypt at the time that the Rosetta Stone was discovered is superficial and fails to take into account some of the more recent scholarship on the subject. The authors, in fact, never indicate what sources they utilized for this study. There is a solid core of readers interested in ancient Egypt and hieroglyphs who will grab this book, but they will be disappointed. More satisfied will be the novices turned on to ancient Egypt by the promotion around Abrams's Valley of the Golden Mummies. Savvy booksellers will piggyback the Adkinses' book onto that one. Illus. not seen by PW. (Oct. 15) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A taut story of 19th-century scholarly research by husband-and-wife archaeologists, with lashes of intrigue and scandal thrown in for good measure. If, as some historians have suggested, Napoleon conquered Egypt in order to liken himself to Caesar and thus circle the wagons of history, his erstwhile subject Jean François Champollion took it on for quite another purpose: he wanted to"investigate the creation of the world and the beginning of time itself." Grand though his ambition was, Champollion was no Indiana Jones. A sickly and frail child, he showed an unusual ability to learn languages from the ground up, mastering Greek and Latin by the time he was 12 and learning many other ancient and modern tongues (although he never quite grasped German). He was also blessed with an extraordinary visual memory, which allowed him to pick up patterns in arcane alphabets that other scholars missed. Applying these talents to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, which had not been used for a millennium-and-a-half, he spent the better part of two decades puzzling over textual and epigraphic evidence, sorting out syllables and phonemes and breaking much new ground—an achievement that infuriated his rivals, foremost among them the English scholar Thomas Young and the Swedish archaeologist Johan Akerblad, who sought to be the first to decipher the ancient code. Young accused Champollion, groundlessly, of plagiarism and evidenced a keen hatred for his French counterpart that poisoned the professional literature for years. Champollion's poor health kept him out of the field, and even his desk work took its toll; toward the end of his life, he complained that"My last picturewith 700hieroglyphic and hieratic signs has killed me." The authors know their Egyptology, and in them Champollion has found worthy champions. Their highly readable account will be of wide interest to students of ancient history and cryptology—and to anyone who enjoys a bookish detective story.. . . Albanov, Valerian IN THE LAND OF WHITE DEATH: An Epic Story of Survival in the Siberian Arctic Modern Library (272 pp.) Oct. 26, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060194390
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Read an Excerpt

(The Beginning of Time)

The house at 28 rue Mazarine, where Jean-François Champollion lived and carried on his research into hieroglyphs, was less than 200 yards from the Institute of France where his brother Jacques-Joseph had his office. Towards midday on 14 September 1822, Champollion covered the distance in the shortest time possible. Clutching his papers, notes and drawings, he fled along the narrow, gloomy street, around the corner and into the Institute. Not fully recovered from his latest spell of ill-health and at the highest pitch of excitement, he was already breathless as he burst into his brother's office, flung his papers on to a desk and shouted, ‘Je tiens l'affaire!' (‘I've found it!'). Working since early morning on the latest drawings of inscriptions from Abu Simbel, he had at last seen the system underlying the seemingly unintelligible Egyptian hieroglyphs, and it was now only a matter of time before he would be able to read any hieroglyphic text. He began to explain to Jacques-Joseph what he had discovered, but only managed a few words before collapsing unconscious on the floor. For a few moments his brother feared he was dead.

Perhaps not quite in the way he had always hoped for, this was to prove the most important turning point in Champollion's turbulent life. Through years of ever-increasing preoccupation with hieroglyphs he had been working towards this goal, but his first tentative steps had been made before he had chosen his life's work and even before he had seen any hieroglyphs—he was drawn to his destiny by an insatiable curiosity about the origins of the world. Early in child-hood, apparentlyneglected by his parents, he was looked after and to some extent spoiled by his brother and three sisters, and they doted on the bright baby of the family who was so much younger than themselves. Champollion's high intelligence and extraordinary genius for languages were recognized by his brother, who was determined that these gifts should not be wasted. Having had his own schooling curtailed by the terrible upheaval of the French Revolution, Jacques-Joseph resolved to minimize its effects on Champollion, initially by giving him lessons, since all the schools had been shut down. Later a private tutor was found for the boy, but as a precarious political stability returned under the ascendance of Napoleon, the schools reopened. By the age of twelve Champollion was so prodigiously proficient in Latin and Greek that he was allowed to begin studying Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac and Chaldean. Since his knowledge of Latin and Greek had already opened to him a world of books on all manner of subjects, his passion for Oriental languages initially appears a curious caprice on the part of this son of a rural bookseller, born in the remote town of Figeac in south-west France. In reality Champollion had already decided to take on one of the great intellectual challenges: to investigate the creation of the world and the beginning of time itself.

Although the Revolution had outlawed the Catholic Church and suppressed religion, the only model for the origin of the world was still contained in the Old Testament of the Bible, which was believed to be a description of the history of the earth from the time of its creation by God. Scholars preparing to examine this theory had to possess a good knowledge of Oriental languages in order to study early versions of the Biblical texts and related documents. Since it was still believed that people lived on the earth very soon after the world began, it was natural to use the tools of history and philology to look for its origin—archaeology and geology were only in their infancy, not yet respectable sciences. Champollion's insatiable curiosity was to tempt him towards various other fields of study on many occasions, but once he became aware of the potential of ancient Egypt, he found the focus for which he was searching. He was gripped by energetic enthusiasm for this mysterious country, a Biblical land whose history was interwoven with that of the Israelites, but the history of Egypt (indeed, virtually all knowledge of Egypt) was locked away in hieroglyphic texts that could not be read—texts that might contain unimaginable secrets, even an accurate account of the origin of the world. Here was a challenge worthy of his talents, a prize of untold knowledge, forgotten for centuries—if he could only decipher the hieroglyphs.

Apart from his exceptional gift for languages, another gift that was to prove decisive in Champollion's success was his extraordinary visual memory, which allowed him to pick out similar signs and groups of signs among the thousands of hieroglyphs he was to study. It may have been this visual memory that caused his initial problems with writing and spelling—as a child he seems to have seen words as pictures and pictures as words, making little distinction between writing and drawing. This unconventional and careless approach was probably a result of his early childhood when he tried to teach himself by copying words from books—an indication of his ability to tackle problems in his own original way. In the unfocused freedom of these formative years, with no proper teaching, he developed the wide-ranging curiosity that later provided both the main driving force of his life and a tendency to be distracted by ever more interesting irrelevancies, but the legacy of this unusual childhood was not altogether beneficial. Restricted to the home because the social unrest of the Revolution made the streets unsafe for children, Champollion at least had the freedom indoors to explore whatever caught his attention, but this later caused problems when he was forced to cope with the disciplines of the schoolroom and the necessity to study subjects, such as mathematics, that completely failed to. . .

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi
(The Beginning of Time) 1
1 (The Land of Egypt) 7
2 (The Pupil) 42
3 (The City) 72
4 (The Teacher) 91
5 (The Physician) 114
6 (Cleopatra) 155
7 (An Acquaintance of the King) 182
8 (Master of Secrets) 211
9 (The Translator) 242
10 (...Who Gave Words and Script) 289
Further Reading 311
Index 315
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2001

    Deciphering the Rosetta Stone

    It is not only as a biography of Champollion this book deserves high marks. It is a fascinating tale of Europe's fascination with ancient Egypt in the years following Napolean's excursions there. Highly readable, and dramatically entertaining, the authors have made a very specialized subject into a fascinating story of discovery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2000

    A Valuable Read

    This book was excellant in its knowledge of heiroglyphics, the French Revolution, Champollion's life (as well as that of his family's) and Ancient Egyptian History. Well worth it!

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