Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

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9780060597689: Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

Two hundred years ago, only the most reckless or eccentric Europeans had dared to traverse the unmapped territory of the modern-day Middle East. But in 1798, more than 150 French engineers, artists, doctors, and scientists—even a poet and a musicologist—traveled to the Nile Valley under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and his invading army. Hazarding hunger, hardship, uncertainty, and disease, Napoleon's "savants" risked their lives in pursuit of discovery. The first large-scale interaction between Europeans and Muslims in the modern era, the audacious expedition was both a triumph and a disaster, resulting in finds of immense historical and scientific importance (including the ruins of the colossal pyramids and the Rosetta Stone) and in countless tragic deaths through plague, privation, madness, or violence.

Acclaimed journalist Nina Burleigh brings readers back to the landmark adventure at the dawn of the modern era that ultimately revealed the deepest secrets of ancient Egypt to a curious continent.

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About the Author:

Nina Burleigh is the author of four books. She is a noted journalist whose articles have appeared in Time, the Washington Post, New York magazine, Elle, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.

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.
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