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Cracking the Egyptian Code: The revolutionary life of Jean-Francois Champollion – a book review

December 31, 2012

Book cover "Cracking the Egyptian code"
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As I like reading biographies Cracking the Egyptian Code: The revolutionary life of Jean-Francois Champollion by Andrew Robinson had to be on my list for two obious reasons: it’s a biography and it’s about the man who managed to set up a system which allows us today to read hieroglyphs.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that Jean-Francois Champollion is solely responsible for this. There were contempories (most notably Thomas Young) who have tried to crack the code and in some cases their work was beneficial to Champollion. Andrew Robinson clearly makes this case.

Before reading this book I saw a documentary on Discovery about Champollion. He was portrayed as a very patient and passionate man who simply set to work and years later had done the job. That’s not the picture I get from the book. Apparently Champollion could be a difficult man at times. He was also politically active which had an influence on his work. Let’s not forget that during his lifetime they were turbulent times in France!

One of the things I like about this book is the fact that Robinson uses information from various sources, modern and contempory. This enables him to present arguments for issues which are not clear and which cannot be proven as fact.
Also, the style of the book is very easy. Some of the material (the actual hieroglyphs) is not that easy, but Robinson does a great job explaining things, as far as necessary. He mainly focuses on Champollion, only the last chapter really deals with hieroglyphs.

This is not only a very nice and informative book to read, it’s also the first biography about Champollion in English. If my enthusiasm about this book is not enough to make you buy it right now, here are some further links about it:
1. Review by the publishers, Thames & Hudson
2. Review in The Independent, 12 May 2012
3. Andrew Robinson discusses his book, event at the British Museum, 27 April 2012

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