When Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his troops and scientists were astonished to discover ancient temples, tombs, and statues, all covered with strange markings-the last remnants of a language lost in time. After the Rosetta Stone was uncovered, hope was raised that the mystery of this ancient writing could be solved. Egyptomania spread throughout Europe, 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, was obsessed with breaking the code of the ancient Egyptians texts. At sixteen years of age he decided that he would dedicate his life to the decipherment of hieroglyphs.
Suffering from hardships of poverty, but with devoted support from his older brother, Champollion made slow but significant progress in decipherment. After the Revolution, however, France was a dangerous place; an unguarded word could mean ruin, exile, or even death. Always possessed of strong political beliefs, Champollion often found himself in grave personnel danger. Yet he continued to strive for the key to the ancient texts, and he persevered despite ill health and the knowledge that he was at the mercy of vicious political enemies. Even more troubling to him was the threat of failure-his closest competitor, the English physician Thomas Young, also working to solve the puzzle of the hieroglyphs, and he was rapidly gaining ground. In 1812, Champollion made the decisive breakthrough, beating 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 the fascinating true story of the race to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs and of the rediscovery of the world of ancient Egypt- a world that had been closed to the West for centuries.