Another All-Nonfiction Reading Group selection and I think I nominated this one simply because I was attracted to the subject matter, the sample audio was good and the reviews from good places were great. I got the Kindle version, too, and I’m glad I did. There’s a pdf file which goes with the Audible version, but I also want footnotes and other extra-textual material. The footnotes would have made the Kindle version worth it, but there is also a photo section which is a very nice addition.
The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone
by Edward Dolnick
2021 / 314 pages
Read by Fajer Al-Kaisi 8h 32m
Rating: 8.75 / History-Middle East
(Both read and listened)
My background with the Rosetta Stone is probably the same as that of most people. is. I’ve heard bits and pieces about it and I’ve been intrigued but haven’t pursued the subject. I knew that it was very difficult to decode – it took two decades from 1799, when it was discovered, until 1822, when a brilliant young Frenchman named Jean-François Champollion along with a a British doctor and scientist named Thomas Young worked it out.
Up to about page 81 the book is mostly background about what precipitated finding The Rosetta Stone, Napoleon’s raid on Egypt and so on. After that the pace picks up as it follows these two very different major players as they keep working, competing for breakthroughs, at translating the Rosetta Stone.
But there are many other individuals involved. And the pace does keep picking up. There is quite a lot of less directly related material, too. The actual dawn of writing, for example, from tax records to scrolls is an example. Dolnick’s ideas seem to go against what David Graeber and David Wengrow say in their book The Dawn of Everything which I read just last month. That was cool to read that – to see what they are/were up against. (But was Egypt ever a nomadic culture?)
I really appreciated the way Dolnick used quotes from a wide variety of sources, Plato to D’Arcy Thompson, to emphasize various points. This happens on virtually every page where the author is not in the middle of his storytelling.
And the Notes are a wonder of information. A general source is usually found within the narrative, but footnotes are used for all manner of somewhat peripheral material. Fascinating. (And I love it when footnotes are sourced, too, although …)
I’m going to have to keep an eye out for Dolnick’s books.
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