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Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt Paperback – December 9, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When 28-year-old Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, his band of 50,000 soldiers and sailors was accompanied by 151 Parisian scientists and artists, who laid the groundwork for what became Egyptology. Ten of these remarkable men are the focus of Burleigh's narrative. Among them, three of the most prominent were the lowborn, pugnacious mathematician Gaspard Monge, a dedicated revolutionary who invented descriptive geometry; the painfully shy chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet, who invented new ways to make gunpowder and steel; and the witty artist and diplomat Dominique-Vivant Denon, who produced 200 architecturally precise sketches of Egyptian ruins and a bestselling travelogue; later he became Napoleon's first director of the Louvre Museum. The survivors of the team brought home a vast body of knowledge, but surrendered their greatest discovery, the Rosetta Stone, to conquering British troops. The result of the savants' work was the 24-volume Description of Egypt, magnificently illustrated with engravings and maps, which helped launch Egyptomania and the rape of the Nile, though Burleigh's discussion of this is scanty. Still, Burleigh (A Very Private Woman) offers an absorbing glimpse of Napoleon's thwarted bid for a grand French empire and its intellectual fruits. 8 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“With an easy style and an eye for striking detail, Burleigh concentrates on 151 French scientists, scholars and students who joined the expedition, tempted by hero worship of Napoleon and the prospect of scientific adventure.” (Associated Press)

“Burleigh spotlights the Indiana Jones-esque scientists who joined Napoleon’s Egyptian invasion during the late 18th century.” (People)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (December 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060597682
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060597689
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #929,747 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nina Burleigh is the author of five books including the widely praised New York Times bestseller, The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox. Tim Egan of the New York Times wrote: "Nina Burleigh's autopsy of one of the most compelling criminal dramas of our time sets a standard that any of the other other chroniclers of this tale have yet to meet. The story of Amanda Knox is part Salem witch trial, part cultural misunderstanding of an epic sort, and part vendetta. Burleigh found the universal elements of a junior year abroad that shook the world, and she brings them home without sentimentality nor an axe to grind. This is what long-form narrative journalism is all about."
Her other books include Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed and Forgery in the Holy Land; Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt; The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams and the Making of America's Greatest Museum, the Smithsonian; and A Very Private Woman: The Life and Murder of Presidential Mistress Mary Meyer.
Mirage, published in 2008 by Harper Collins, was selected by the New York Times as an editors' choice and won the Society of Women Educators' Award in 2008.
Burleigh was born and educated in the Midwest, has traveled throughout the United States and extensively in the Middle East and lived in Italy and France. As a journalist, she has covered American politics, the White House and Congress for Time and reported and wrote human interest stories at People Magazine from New York. She is an adjunct professor at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
She currently covers national politics at Newsweek and her feature articles on a wide variety of topics have been published in the New Yorker, The New York Times, Time, New York and Bloomberg's Businessweek, Elle, and many other journals. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline, CBS 48 Hours, various programs on CNN, C-Span, as well as NPR and countless radio outlets.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By George Poirier on February 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Many people have read about Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and of the many scientists and engineers who accompanied him. However, many history books usually allot but a few pages perhaps to this important event, which led, among other things, to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The author of this book has done an excellent job of focusing entirely on Napoleon's Egyptian campaign with particular emphasis on the many "savants" who were charged with studying and documenting this ancient land. The many hardships that they endured are vividly described, as are their relationships with the French military and the local inhabitants. The author's writing style is accessible, friendly, authoritative and most engaging, making this a work that is difficult to put down. This account indeed forms an excellent link between the decaying ruins of an ancient civilization and the birth of modern Egyptology. This is a book that can be enjoyed by everyone, but history buffs, particularly those with a fascination for Egypt, will likely relish it the most.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Stuart Speckman on March 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific book. I highly recommend it to almost anyone. All you need is an interest in history or science or adventure or foreign affairs or botany or ancient Egypt. On many levels, this book is fun and informative. And it's all true. For flavor, it's like Indiana Jones meets Albert Einstein meets James Audubon. It's hard to put down.

The story concerns Napoleon's foray into Egypt in 1799. Ostensibly it was to expand scientific knowledge of this ancient and mysterious land. In reality, it was the start of the anticipated conquest and annexation of Egypt. As the British did with India (i.e., creating a far-east outpost), the French were hoping to do with Egypt. But things did not go exactly as planned.

In other books on the subject, the focus is on the military aspect of the expedition. About 50,000 soldiers and sailors accompanied Napoleon. In Mirage, the author (Nina Burleigh) focuses on the 151 scientists (or savants) who also accompanied him. Here, the savants are the "heroes." We learn of their trials, tribulations, and successes.

Each chapter concerns a different savant and their respective expertise: botany, math, medicine, engineering, art, etc. Through the eyes of learned gents, we learn about Egypt, the parochial views of 19th century Europe, and the folly of imperialism. It's a terrific perspective that is told in an easily accessible style.

Burleigh keeps up the suspense. She covers many academic fields but does not overwhelm a reader. It's a fun read and you can't help but learn. For example, she describes the savants' discoveries while stuck in desert sands. She puts discoveries in the context of the time and shows how some still apply, like Fourier's math work.

The only knock on the book, and it is minor, is that it lacks a map of the region. Readers should print one before starting the book.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Stephanie Slewka on January 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Nina Burleigh paints a vivid picture of the curious minds of the scientists who accompanied Napoleon to Egypt, a land beyond their imagination.

The scientists' desire to understand what they were seeing and to map, catalogue, paint--and in some ways, dominate--this exotic place feels real. Though the cast of characters is large, and occasionally unwieldy, the book draws fine portraits of individuals, many of whom are worthy of their own biographies. And Mirage projects a sense of excitement about learning that is contagious.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. Simon on January 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Nina Burleigh's book, Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt, is a great discovery on the earliest era of western ambition in the middle east. The history is told in the style of a vivid, 'you are there' narrative that is very accessible. The inspiration of the book is in chronicling this marriage of science and empire in the throes of a disasterous military campaign, where the best, brightest and youngest from the academies jump at the chance to join Napoleon's army to destinations unknown. Even when their own army was in complete disarray, these first archaeologists, botanists, engineers and inventors kept drawing and collecting, and Burleigh does an excellent job at making that incredible history live again. These individuals who produced the encyclopedias, the animal studies, the engineering plans and the first accurate images of Egypt, with its pyramids and sphinx and the Nile, are the center of Burliegh's book. Many are by now familiar with how the current disaster echoes those chronicled by T.E. Lawrence or the Russian campaign in Afganastan, but who knew of Napoleon's own will to march into the desert against all logic, and of how the legacy created there was not military or geo-politcal but scientific?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Readerbuff on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Burleigh's Mirage is an excellent account of the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon's army, and the French intellectual Savants that accompanied the military on this ill-conceived and failed military expedition. The accounts of the physical trials, successes, and failures of the Savants is profoundly interesting.

Ms. Burleigh's depth of research on the subject was very good. She provides many detailed accounts and examples, taken from first hand journals, that provide the reader with first-hand accounts of a very trying period in French and Egyptian history.

For those interested in this period of colonial French history; interested in the Egyptian art, architecture and culture; and the practical application of 18th century science to the infancy of archaeology, this is a must read for you.
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