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In 1799, while Napoleon's troops battled the fierce Mamelukes in Egypt's Western Delta, a French engineer discovered a giant granite slab that contained strange symbols and Greek letters. Two Egyptologists, the British-born Thomas Young and the astounding young French linguistic polymath Jean-François Champollion, fought to decipher the confounding script in an epic scientific battle. In 1822 Champollion finally broke through 3,000 years of mystery and revealed the Egyptian demotic and hieroglyphic system of writing--forever changing our view of history in the process.
Cracking Codes, by Richard Parkinson, the British Museum's assistant keeper of Egyptian antiquities, is a companion volume for the museum's bicentennial exhibition of what has come to be known as the Rosetta stone. With 32 color and 200 black-and-white illustrations ranging from limestone fragments to whole statues, illustrated papyrus, and evocative wall paintings, Parkinson shows how Champollion's piercing of the mists of time has enabled the ancient Egyptians to speak to modern civilizations. Parkinson's essays on the importance of writing to human civilization and the birth of Egyptology are equally insightful. "The decipherment of the Egyptian scripts is not a single event that occurred in 1822," he writes, but "a continuous process that is repeated at every reading of a text or artifact. Like any process of reading, it is a dialogue." --Eugene Holley Jr. [via]