Edward Dolnick, author of “The Writing of the Gods,” to host an author talk for Ruth Keeler library patrons
The Rosetta Stone, discovered in 1799, baffled scholars for centuries. It also piqued the curiosity of writer Edward Dolnick, who wanted to know more about this ancient relic that so many had heard of but few knew much about.
On Thursday, December 2, the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem will host Dolnick via Zoom for an author talk about his book, The Writing of the Gods: The Race to Decode the Rosetta Stone.
“People don’t know much about the Rosetta Stone. They know that there is such a thing and that it has something to do with Egypt,” Dolnick told the North Salem Post. “This is one of the greatest stories ever, and it seemed like a good one to dive into.”
Dolnick has spent his career exploring unique and fascinating true stories and making them accessible for readers. Formerly the chief science writer for the Boston Globe, Dolnick also wrote The Clockwork Universe, The Rescue Artist: A True Story of Art, Thieves, and the Hunt for a Missing Masterpiece and The Forger's Spell, books which explore science, art theft and art forgings. “When I write these books, they’re non-fiction and most have to do with history in some way,” Dolnick said. “It’s really important for me that they’re not homework. It can’t be a good deed to read them; it has to be something that you look forward to.”
In The Writing of the Gods, Dolnick introduces readers to two men—Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young, who each raced to decipher the Rosetta Stone. “What had me doing jumping jacks was the discovery that there were two people in the race to solve it,” Dolnick said. “Each is this larger than life figure, both brilliant, both grown-up child prodigies, both miles ahead of any competitor. For storytelling purposes, that was terrific. It was great fun to have the two of them in a contest.”
Dolnick’s writing process involves extensive research, which he conducts by reading as well as through meeting experts knowledgeable about the subject he plans to write about. “First, there’s an awful lot of reading everything under the sun,” Dolnick said. “I picture a whole shelf of books, and then putting your ear at one end and just stuffing them through.” Next, Dolnick begins relationship building with experts. “At some point in the course of reading those books, you’ll have found someone who is a better explainer,” Dolnick said. “With great trepidation I approach them, usually with a tiny question at first. If they do answer, then I nag them forever,” he joked.
Dolnick hopes readers of The Writing of the Gods will take away a newfound respect for deciphering. “How in the world would you have solved this problem if you looked at these hieroglyphs--a snake next to a dog, next to a semicircle--how you would figure it out is kind of a marvelous thing,” Dolnick said. “I would like people not to take that for granted. The next time you’re in a restaurant and see a menu in another language, think, if you did not know that language already, how would you begin to figure it out?”
For this Thursday’s author talk, Dolnick promises attendees won’t need to do any complex deciphering. Also guaranteed: that Dolnick’s enthusiasm for the topic will spill through the Zoom connection. “It’ll be a fun night. It’ll be a story of geniuses and plunder and mummies and mysteries,” Dolnick said, with all the glee of someone who just unlocked a mystery and can’t wait to share it with the world.
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