What We Are Reading Today: The Riddle of the Rosetta

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Updated 18 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Riddle of the Rosetta

Authors: Jed Z. Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz

 

In 1799, a French Army officer was rebuilding the defenses of a fort on the banks of the Nile when he discovered an ancient stele fragment bearing a decree inscribed in three different scripts. So begins one of the most familiar tales in Egyptology — that of the Rosetta Stone and the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

This book draws on fresh archival evidence to provide a major new account of how the English polymath Thomas Young and the French philologist Jean-François Champollion vied to be the first to solve the riddle of the Rosetta.

Jed Buchwald and Diane Greco Josefowicz bring to life a bygone age of intellectual adventure. Much more than a decoding exercise centered on a single artifact, the race to decipher the Rosetta Stone reflected broader disputes about language, historical evidence, biblical truth, and the value of classical learning. Buchwald and Josefowicz paint compelling portraits of Young and Champollion, two gifted intellects with altogether different motivations. Young disdained Egyptian culture and saw Egyptian writing as a means to greater knowledge about Greco-Roman antiquity. Champollion, swept up in the political chaos of Restoration France and fiercely opposed to the scholars aligned with throne and altar, admired ancient Egypt and was prepared to upend conventional wisdom to solve the mystery of the hieroglyphs.

Taking readers from the hushed lecture rooms of the Institut de France to the windswept monuments of the Valley of the Kings, The Riddle of the Rosetta reveals the untold story behind one of the nineteenth century’s most thrilling discoveries.

 


What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

Updated 23 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: A Place for Everything by Judith Flanders

A Place for Everything fascinatingly lays out the gradual triumph of alphabetical order, from its possible earliest days as a sorting tool to its current decline in prominence in our digital age of Wikipedia and Google.
Historian Judith Flanders draws readers’ attention to both the neglected ubiquity of the alphabet and the long, complex history of its rise to prominence.
A Place for Everything presents the study and analysis made by the author of the alphabet’s origins and its development as a sorting tool.
“This book will be very interesting to a narrow audience of people — particularly librarians,” said a review in goodreads.com.
Deirdre Mask said in a review for The New York Times for The New York Times that Flanders, a meticulous scholar who has written books on Victorian London and the history of Christmas, “prioritizes thoroughness, and at times her book can read a bit like the encyclopedias she writes about. The footnotes get some of the best lines.”
Mask is the author of The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth,
and Power.