Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

by Nina Burleigh

Little more than two hundred years ago, only the most reck or eccentric Europeans had dared traverse the unmapped territory of the modern-day Middle East.

Its history and peoples were the subject of much myth and speculationand no region aroused greater interest than Egypt, where reports of mysterious monuments, inscrutable hieroglyphics, rare silks and spices, and rumors of lost magical knowledge tantalized dreamers and taunted the power-hungry.It was not until 1798, when an unlikely band of scientific explorers traveled from Paris to the Nile Valley, that Westerners received their first real glimpse of what lay beyond the Mediterranean Sea.Under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Army, a small and little-known corps of Paris's brightest intellectual lights left the safety of their laboratories, studios, and classrooms to embark on a thirty-day crossing into the unknownsome never to see French shores again.

Unraveling the mysteries that had befuddled Europeans for centuries, Napoleon's scientists were the first to document the astonishing accomplishments of a lost civilizationbefore the dark shadow of empire-building took Africa and the Middle East by storm.Internationally acclaimed journalist Nina Burleigh brings readers back to a little-known landmark adventure at the dawn of the modern eraone that ultimately revealed the deepest secrets of ancient Egypt to a very curious continent.

  • Language: English
  • Category: History
  • Rating: 3.67
  • Pages: 286
  • Publish Date: November 27th 2007 by Harper
  • Isbn10: 0060597674
  • Isbn13: 9780060597672

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The nation needs a victory somewhere and Napoleon, never one to pass up an opportunity, decides to take the French Army to Egypt to secure a base by which grow an empire. In addition to ships and men to mount this expedition, Napoleon takes a group of 150 scientists along to document this strange land that belongs to no European power and has little factual documentation that didnt originate from the Crusades centuries earlier. His underlings, who are really pissed about this, deal as best they can for the next few years before the British, quite mercifully, allow whats left this army to return home. They were treated as second-class citizens by the soldiers and only because it was Napoleon leading this mission did they live to see Egypt. Their research was increasingly forced to be pragmatic for the French cause; ways to build a Suez canal, medical care for soldiers, and supplying water for the locals. Eventually, the French capitulated to the British and, as part of the negotiations, they asked for the findings of the scientists, having followed their developments throughout the occupation. What results is a multi-volume book, begun in1802 and finished in 1828 called the Description of Egypt that became a runaway smash and cause a sensational in the fashion and design worlds for anything Egyptian.

Of course, Mirage is great as an audiobook for road trips b/c the actor takes relish with all those French names... Skill points needed = 15.

They opened Egypt to western society, cataloging ruins and mummies, flora and fauna, and unearthing what became key to later unlocking the (real and non-magical) meaning of Hieroglyphics, the Rosetta Stone. After contact French society became enamoured of things Egyptian; so too the indigenous of Egypt began to rediscover the value of the ruins they occupied, and stopped using them only as convenient places to dump garbage and bodies or sources of building materials. General Napoleon left Egypt to later become Emperor, student savants came to Egypt boys and returned as men, the Revolution in France crested, and the Age of Reason gave way to the Romantic Era. With belly usually full and mind not occupied on mere survival the intellectual is empowered to critique the cruelty of the system that makes possible their lives.

The narrative moves along efficiently, balancing portraits of individual scientists with a broader account of the French expedition to Egypt.

According to her, the French, regardless of all their crimes and brutality that they have committed in Egypt, are civilized and enlightened because they had fancy French names, and eat baguettes and croissants.

Her book, 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.