The fast-paced and “engrossing account” (The New York Times Book Review) of “one of the greatest breakthroughs in archaeological history” (The Christian Science Monitor): two rival geniuses in a race to decode the writing on one of the world’s most famous documents—the Rosetta Stone.
The Rosetta Stone is one of the most famous objects in the world, attracting millions of visitors to the British museum every year, and yet most people don’t really know what it is. Discovered in a pile of rubble in 1799, this slab of stone proved to be the key to unlocking a lost language that baffled scholars for centuries.
Carved in ancient Egypt, the Rosetta Stone carried the same message in different languages—in Greek using Greek letters, and in Egyptian using picture-writing called hieroglyphs. Until its discovery, no one in the world knew how to read the hieroglyphs that covered every temple and text and statue in Egypt.
Dominating the world for thirty centuries, ancient Egypt was the mightiest empire the world had ever known, yet everything about it—the pyramids, mummies, the Sphinx—was shrouded in mystery. Whoever was able to decipher the Rosetta Stone would solve that mystery and fling open a door that had been locked for two thousand years.
Two brilliant rivals set out to win that prize. One was English, the other French, at a time when England and France were enemies and the world’s two great superpowers. Written “like a thriller” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis), The Writing of the Gods chronicles this high-stakes intellectual race in which the winner would win glory for both himself and his nation. A riveting portrait of empires both ancient and modern, this is an unparalleled look at the culture and history of ancient Egypt, “and also a lesson…in what the human mind does when faced with a puzzle” (The New Yorker).
When the Rosetta Stone was discovered by French soldiers in 1799, "the first guesses were that it might take two weeks to decipher," according to this stimulating history of a linguistic puzzle that took 20 years to solve. Journalist Dolnick (The Seeds of Life) reveals that Thomas Young (1773 1829) and Jean-Fran ois Champollion (1790 1832), the two "rival geniuses" who "did the most to crack the code," had both been child prodigies and possessed "an uncanny flair for languages," but were "opposites in nearly every other regard." Polymath Young made contributions to the fields of physics, medicine, and linguistics, while Champollion "cared about Egypt and only about Egypt." Though Champollion was the first to truly "read" the language of hieroglyphs, in the 1820s, Young made a key breakthrough in 1816, when he proposed that one grouping on the Rosetta Stone spelled out the name Ptolemy (Champollion insisted that he had come to the same conclusion independently). Dolnick lucidly explains the complex steps taken to decipher the relic, and offers brisk and enlightening history lessons on the first appearances of written language, Roman emperor Constantine's conversion to Christianity in the fourth century, the Scientific Revolution, and Napoleon's invasion of Egypt. The result is an immersive and knowledgeable introduction to one of archaeology's greatest breakthroughs. Illus. Agent: Flip Brophy, Sterling Lord Literistic.
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Well researched and entertainingly written story