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The Keys Of Egypt [Paperback]

Lesley Adkins
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 15 2001 0060953497 978-0060953492 Reprint
When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his troops were astonished to find countless ruins covered with hieroglyphs -- remnants of a language lost in time. Egyptomania spread throughout Europe with their return, and the quest to decipher the hieroglyphs began in earnest, for it was understood that fame and fortune awaited the scholar who succeeded.

In rural France, Jean-Francois Champollion, the brilliant son of an impoverished bookseller, became obsessed with breaking the code of the ancient Egyptians. At sixteen years of age he decided that he would dedicate his life to the decipherment of hieroglyphs. Amid political turmoil in France caused by Napoleon's meteoric rise and catastrophic fall, Champollion was hounded, exiled, and even charged with treason, yet he continued to strive for the key to the ancient texts. In 1812, Champollion made the decisive breakthrough, beating his closest rival, English physician Thomas Young, to the prize and becoming the first person to be able to read the ancient Egyptian language in well over a thousand years. The Keys of Egypt is a true story of adventure, obsession, and triumph over extreme adversity.

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"Lesley and Roy Adkins have written a classic." -- The Mail on Sunday (London)

"Of wide interest to students of ancient history and cryptology…and to anyone who enjoys a bookish detective story." -- Kirkus Reviews

"The Keys of Egypt is a worthy tribute to the man who named--and unlocked--the Valley of the Kings." -- Daily Mail (London)

"The authors have done great service to Champollion. Their biography is graphic, gripping and a great read." -- Birmingham Post

...a dramatic scientific quest... -- Publishers Weekly

A ripping tale of obsession and rivalry. -- The Sunday Telegraph (London)

A riveting account of the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. -- New Scientist

Champollion's achievement...is laid out lucidly in this thrilling account by husband-and-wife historians Lesley and Roy Adkins. -- Michael Browning, Palm Beach Post

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The house at 28 rue Mazarine, where Jean-Francois Champollion lived and carried on his research into hieroglyphs, was less than 200 yards from the Institute of France where his brother Jacques had his office. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
By A Customer
As the authors explain in the appendix dedicated to further reading, there was no biography dedicated to Champollion in the English language at the time of their writing. This book fills the gap, at least for the amateur.
The text is detailed and very well written. It dispells common mistakes and misunderstandings about the discovery, such as the too often repeated myth that the Rossetta Stone was the main text used by Champollion. It also deals with the necessary historical background, including Napoleon expedition to Egypt, in an appropriate way.
The reviewer before me takes ombrage at the fact that the book focuses on Champollion instead of Young. Paradoxically, such emphasis is precisely one of the central ideas of the book. Young and other scholars were nowhere close to figure that the Egyptian language could be at the same time phonetic and ideographic. Their systems of cracking the language were at best poor and at worst totally fictional. We owe the discovery of the meaning of hieroglyphs to the genious of Champollion. Moreover, such achievement took place despite his having to endure poverty and difficulties of all kinds, including the pettiness and jealousy of Young and others.
Highly recommended.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A decent read Sept. 3 2003
The Keys Of Egypt was written by husband-and-wife archaeological team Lesley and Roy Adkins. It is subtitled "The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code," and starts with a short chapter that introduces the eventual winner of that race, the Frenchman Jean-Francois Champollion, and mentions his most serious rival, the Englishman Thomas Young.
The book goes on to examine Napoleon's expedition to Egypt which both brought the Rosetta Stone to light and started a period of French and European fascination with ancient Egypt. These were the two catalysts for the riddle's eventual solution.
This is a well-written book that looks at the struggle and race for translation and the political and academic machinations (often both combined) that surrounded Champollion. It is essentially a biography of Champollion, who grew up and worked amid the turmoil of the Napoleonic era. The story is a compelling one and the authors have done well to make it at times fascinating, though it does lack some technical detail of exactly how Champollion attacked the problem.
As a genre I find that 'scientific biographies' tend to be a little overblown and flowery, the writing not quite precise -- and Keys suffers from these shortcomings. I also felt that while the book is subtitled "The Race to Crack the Hieroglyph Code" it really only focuses on Champollion, while he is the eventual winner a little more effort in examining the others involved in the effort would have improved the book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable book for the general reader July 22 2003
By kallan
This is an interesting and very readable book. It succeeds well in relating the excitement of Champollion's life and drawing the reader into his story. It places him in the turbulent political and intellectual climate of his day, and shows what a dangerous business an academic career could be at that time.
There were some flaws in the book. The first chapter seemed largely irrelevant, and made the book hard to get into initially. Throughout, the authors kept adding little andecdotes and asides that, while colourful, were often a diversion from the point of the book. But my strongest criticism is that I did not feel the book actually told me how Champollion deciphered hieroglyphics and came to be able to translate the ancient Egyptian language. Exactly how did he go from being able to identify rulers' names to reading and understanding the language itself?
So read this book for insight into a really interesting period of history and for illumination of the appealing character of Champollion himself. Read the Adkins' book on learning hieroglyphs for more of an insight into the hieroglyphs themselves.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography July 5 2002
The Adkins duo (as they are lovingly called by reviewers and editors alike) provides the readers with a vivid account of life and work of Jean-Francois Champollion. The story is set against a fascinating background of French political and military life in the first half of the 19th century, starting with a detailed description of Napoleon's failed Egyptian expedition. The intrigues and traps of academic life of the time are displayed with knowledge and gusto. The rivalry between Champollion and his main colleague and adversary in the business of deciphering, Thomas Young, is given ample space which it deserves. Being absolutely accessible even for a complete beginner in any things egyptological as myself, the book nevertheless does not patronize the reader or oversimplify any complexities of the story. As a biography of one of the foremost philologists of all times, it is excellent. My personal disappointment was that I wanted to know more technical details about the actual deciphering process. This, however, is in itself an enthralling story, which deserves a separate book (and if anyone can recommend one, I'd be much obliged).
Very readable, academically sound (imho) and beautifully written.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Jewel of the Nile Feb. 7 2002
My strong facination with the subject of ancient Egypt led me to pick up this book. The decipherment of heiroglyphics is something most people find facinating...Having been to Egypt over 10 years ago, I was captivated by these symbols and always wondered how it was humanly possible to decipher them. Upon reading the summary of the book, I instantly knew the plot was one filled with adventure, intrigue and above all; knowledge.
What I found most appealing about the book, was the main character the authors focused on; Mr. Champillion. I found his persona absolutely amazing...not only was he a born genius in linguistics (having mastered numerous languages at a very young age), but he was "driven" to say the least, in conquering this elusive ancient langauge which he believed would unlock history's secrets and reveal mysteries that until then, were very unknown to men...
As one reads the book, you can't help but feel sorry for Mr. Champillion...at times, it seems he is never going to succeed due to the overwhelming odds he had to conquer in his lifetime. He faced down life-long poverty, numerous political regimes who were against him, not to mention the countless critics who tried to downplay his achievements. On top of that, he suffered from ill-health from day one and was often wracked with pain on an ongoing basis. However, whatever the difficulties, he was able to conquer them and succeed in bestowing one of the greatest gifts ever given to the world at that time and in the present.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the author's use of historic content, particulary that of which was associated with Napolean and his drive to conquer Egypt and it's secrets.
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