STARRED REVIEW
November 2021

The Writing of the Gods

By Edward Dolnick
With a conversational, accessible tone, Edward Dolnick draws readers into the dazzling intellectual mystery of the Rosetta stone.
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Edward Dolnick, author of The Clockwork Universe, has a remarkable ability to explain and contextualize complex topics and create compelling, lucid nonfiction narratives. In his new book, The Writing of the Gods, he tackles the Rosetta stone, a broken stone slab weighing three quarters of a ton that was discovered in a heap of Egyptian rubble in 1799.

Once news of this discovery got out, linguists and scholars were ecstatic. The stone contained three different kinds of inscriptions: Egyptian hieroglyphs (undecipherable at the time), a mysterious middle section (which turned out to be another form of Egyptian writing) and, at the bottom, 53 lines of Greek.

“The first guesses were that it might take two weeks to decipher the Rosetta stone,” Dolnick writes. It seemed plausible that the task would be simple: If all three sections were the same text in different forms, the Greek section should provide the key. The reality? It took 20 years to interpret. Along the way, Dolnick clearly lays out the high stakes of this battle to translate Egyptian writing for the first time.

Readers are immersed in the urgency of these scholars’ task and the weight of why it mattered.

In a conversational, accessible tone, Dolnick draws readers into the mystery. He introduces linguist rivals Thomas Young and Jean-Francois Champollion and takes immense care to illustrate the daunting nature of their quest. The result is a book that’s much more than a simple biography or dull history. Readers are immersed in the urgency of these scholars’ task and the weight of why it mattered.

Reading The Writing of the Gods is like tagging along for a dazzling intellectual journey of discovery, akin to listening to a fascinating lecture. Dolnick brings this period of history to life in the same way the Rosetta stone revived ancient Egypt.

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The Writing of the Gods

The Writing of the Gods

By Edward Dolnick
Scribner
ISBN 9781501198939

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