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The Keys of Egypt:
Jean-François Champollion's biography is neatly interwoven with Napoleonic history and the functions of Egyptian hieroglyphs in The Keys of Egypt. A gifted bookseller's son born in Revolutionary France, Champollion was to become "gripped by energetic enthusiasm" for Egypt. By the age of 12, he was studying several ancient languages, and, amid a "wave of Egyptomania," he would beat rivals to discover the key to deciphering hieroglyphs. If this was a race, it was a marathon. The breakthrough came after "20 years of obsessive hard work," not through the quick-fix solution often thought to have been provided by the Rosetta stone. The Keys of Egypt details Champollion's life and work, which were hampered by politics, poverty, and an almost hypochondriacal series of health problems. Its sources include letters and journals, the authors having undertaken researches in major libraries and museums. Chapters on Champollion's travels in Italy and Egypt include a good smattering of excerpts from his writings. Although no bibliography is given, there is a helpful passage on various levels of further reading. Highly instructive and fast-paced, The Keys of Egypt is perhaps less dramatic than it might be in portraying troubled times and groundbreaking discovery. It is, however, a clearly expressed and wide-ranging book explaining the complexity of hieroglyphic interpretation and revealing the man whose achievements "meant the discovery of a whole new civilization." --Karen Tiley, Amazon.co.uk [via]