From Publishers Weekly
A wonderful introduction not only to the Rosetta Stone and its story, but also to the growth and development of modern Egyptology, this slim book begins with Cambridge professor Ray's childhood encounter with the stone in the British Museum in 1958. From there, Ray traces the history of the stone from the time of its discovery in 1799 to its deciphering in 1822 by Jean-François Champollion, a journey populated with big personalities and world events. Balancing the stone's present-day life with its ancient one, Ray gives readers enough information about the world of Ptolemy Epiphanes-during whose reign the stone was forged-to understand the larger context, but doesn't slow the narrative with extraneous details. Ray also offers an illuminating overview of dead language studies and the colorful figures who devote their lives to it. Like the rest of editor Mary Beard's Wonders of the World series (Richard Jenkyns's Westminster Abbey, Robert Irwin's The Alhambra, etc.), this informative text has an appealing, conversational tone that non-specialists should find especially welcoming.
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The renowned key to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone is an awe-inspiring object; seeing it inspired Ray to pursue a career in Egyptology. Ray balances his acumen with accessibility in presenting the stele's history, which takes several forms. From a historical perspective, the text, a 196 BCE agreement between the Ptolemaic pharaoh and the Egyptian priesthood, opens a window on a culture and polity in distress. Another history is intellectual, that of the Rosetta Stone's spectacular role in the decipherment of hieroglyphics. Because this can be a technical topic, Ray imparts more information on the deciphererFrench linguist Jean-François Champollion (17901832)than on the thought process behind his achievement. His genius, short life, and interaction with British scholar Thomas Young, who made progress in decipherment before Champollion, attach yet another history to the Rosetta Stone. Finally, ruminating on whether it, or antiquities generally, should be repatriated, Ray underscores that its history continues. Concise and informative. Taylor, Gilbert