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The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone

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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 what the human mind does when faced with a puzzle” (The New Yorker).

ISBN-13: 9781501198946

Media Type: Paperback

Publisher: Scribner

Publication Date: 11-22-2022

Pages: 336

Product Dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Edward Dolnick is the author of The Writing of the Gods, The Clockwork Universe, The Forger’s Spell, and the Edgar Award–winning The Rescue Artist, among other books. A former chief science writer at The Boston Globe, he has written for The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, and many other publications. He lives with his wife near Washington, DC.

Table of Contents

Timeline xiii

Prologue xv

1 The Stakes 1

2 The Find 9

3 The Challenge 15

4 Voices from the Dust 21

5 So Near and Yet So Far 29

6 The Conquering Hero 43

7 The Burning Deck 51

8 Monsieur Smith Makes His Exit 59

9 A Celebrity in Stone 67

10 First Guesses 73

11 The Rivals 81

12 Thomas Young Is Almost Surprised 93

13 Archimedes in His Bathtub, Thomas Young in His Country House 101

14 Ahead of the Field 109

15 Lost in the Labyrinth 115

16 Ancient Wisdom 125

17 "A Cipher and a Secret Writing" 137

18 The Exile 145

19 Here Comes Champollion 155

20 "A Veritable Chaos" 161

21 The Birth of Writing 167

22 The Paduan Giant 175

23 Abu Simbel 181

24 Eureka! 191

25 The Unveiling 201

26 A Duck May Be Somebody's Mother 207

27 Straining to Hear 215

28 Strength in Numbers 223

29 A Pair of Walking Legs 231

30 Clean Robes and Soft Hands 237

31 Out of a Job 247

32 The Lost Pharaoh 251

Epilogue 259

Acknowledgments 265

Notes 267

Bibliography 291

Photo Credits 299

Index 301