COVID-19: Updates on library services and operations.

Mirage : Napoleon's scientists and the unveiling of Egypt /
Nina Burleigh.
1st ed.
New York : Harper, c2007.
xv, 286 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm.
0060597674, 9780060597672
More Details
New York : Harper, c2007.
contents note
The general -- The geometer and the chemist -- The inventor -- The institute -- The engineers -- The doctors -- The mathematician -- The artist -- The naturalist -- The zoologist -- The stone -- The book -- Epilogue: From Egyptomania to Egyptology.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references (p. 261-269) and index.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt

Chapter One

The General

Europe is but a mole-hill. There never have existed mighty empires, save in the East, the cradle of all religions, the birthplace of all metaphysics.
—Napoleon Bonaparte

There was nothing more surprising and marvelous than Napoleon’s salon for company: it was like something to lodge a king.
—François Bernoyer

Mediterranean Sea, May-June 1798

Departure day dawned warm and sweet, a merry late-May morning on the shores of the Mediterranean. Sunlight winked on the water, the wind was brisk. A military band played martial music, and booming cannon warned stragglers to board without delay. The bay was black with three hundred ships—a sight unlike any the seedy port town of Toulon had ever seen. Vessels were packed so tightly that hulls screeched and sawed against each other maneuvering for open water. Wives, family, friends, and the plain curious milled about on land, sobbing, laughing, waving, struggling to witness this massive, unprecedented embarkation.

The lace-cuffed artist and diplomat Dominique-Vivant Denon surveyed the scene from the deck of one of the ships, and mused in his journal: "Thousands of men leaving their country, their fortunes, their friends, their children, and their wives, almost all of whom knew nothing of the course they were about to steer, nor indeed of anything that concerned their voyage, except that Bonaparte was the leader.”

On board the ships, the scene was colorful, chaotic, profane. The infantry wore blue, the hussars (fighting horsemen) sported yellow and red, the dragoons (mounted infantry who fought mainly on foot) draped themselves in scarlet, pink, or orange, depending upon their unit. Horses whinnied and stamped down in the holds, livestock to be butchered in the course of the voyage lowed and grunted from rank pens.

Scattered among the 34,000 land troops and 16,000 sailors and marines crammed into every nook and cranny of this massive fleet, 151 scholars and artists tried to stow their books, instruments, and baggage without disturbing the rough men around them, still busy tying down bulky equipment and hurling oaths as the footing beneath them began to roll. Unlike the soldiers, these civilians had actually volunteered for this mad expedition to a secret destination, but like them, they were assigned to ships and berths according to their age and rank and prominence in their respective fields. Professors, inventors, and famous artists like the elegant Denon sailed in relative luxury with officers, while students and young engineers squeezed into fetid holds together with a hundred or more men.

From the start, down in the holds, the youngest scientists—thirty-six students—had the worst of it. As the ships lurched into the rolling open sea, the students clutched hammocks hanging next to, over, and under rows of soldiers. Hemmed in on all sides by human flesh, teenagers who had, a few months before, fought to join the mystery expedition were quickly disabused of their adventure fantasies. Within hours of embarkation—just before dinner, in fact—the rough seas drove most men to their knees with sickness. The soldiers were from the land army, not seafaring men themselves, and they got as seasick as the scientists. Men who weren’t subject to le mal de mer were soon sickened by the inescapable odor of vomit. Even Napoleon, who had his shipboard bed mounted on wheels to try to alleviate the effects of the swells, spent much of the trip seasick.

It was a queasy and inauspicious start to a voyage the civilians had anticipated with nervous impatience for many days. They had left the comforts of Paris weeks before, and had waited in the port town of Toulon for days. Horses and war matériel clogged the thoroughfares—the streets were filthy, lodging and food were nearly impossible to find. Men slept in stables and on the floors of public buildings. Night and day, tens of thousands of battle-hardened soldiers, returned from the two fronts in France’s recent European war, clashed with one another as well as with the scientists. These dirty, rugged, uneducated men would be the scientists’ protectors and tormentors for the next three years. They jostled in the fishy streets, drinking and brawling, simultaneously impatient for the sea voyage to begin and annoyed at the impenetrable mystery of the destination. They ridiculed or sneered at the civilian scientists in their frock coats—if they noticed them at all.

The animating spirit behind the enterprise didn’t arrive until the night before the expedition was scheduled to sail. On the evening of May 18, Toulon blazed with celebratory lights. The greatest military leader in France, at five-foot-four, a lithe little man who moved like a human panther—"that sulphur-headed Scaramouche,” to his royalist detractors—had finally arrived, with his wife, Joséphine. He was twenty-eight years old. A curious combination of romantic and cold-blooded tactician, the young warrior was, at this point in his life, deeply in love with the comparatively more worldly and sexually experienced Creole whom he had married. Leaving Toulon, Napoleon didn’t know that before he saw his wife again she would break his heart. With her silk-draped presence nearby, he loped onto a hastily constructed platform and, to roars from the crowd, addressed his soldiers, promising to those who returned from this mystery destination a grant of six acres of land each.

As he spoke, the crowd crackled with a sense of history-making and adventure. The general never had a problem raising massive armies. The French People’s Armies had numbered between half and three-quarters of a million men in the preceding years. Before his reign ended, Napoleon would muster a million-man army. François Bernoyer, a tailor and chief of supplies to the army, who would become a prolific chronicler of the expedition, was in the audience. "Everyone was excited by the mystery. Never had so many masts been seen on the sea, nor so many horses and war tools filled the beach. Thus, on the faith of a single man, the elite of the French savants and warriors prepared to leave.”

Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt
. Copyright © by Nina Burleigh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt by Nina Burleigh
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2007-10-22:
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. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Library Journal on 2008-03-15:
In 1798, Gen. Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Egypt. Attached to the expedition was an elite group of scientists eager to see strange sights and make great discoveries; Mirage is about their adventures. Neither the scientists nor the troops were prepared for the heat, water shortages, disease, or local uprisings. Still, the naturalists, geologists, engineers, and proto-archaeologists managed to collect an amazing amount of data. While focused on the science core, the book contains detailed descriptions of such diverse topics as Napoleon's military maneuvers, rudimentary excavation practices, selection of concubines, and some particularly creative torture techniques. The facts are fascinating, and the text is well written; unfortunately, it also suffers from significant organizational problems. Statements and sometimes whole paragraphs are repeated in different chapters. Keeping track of who did what, where, and when is difficult. And while tortures, for example, are described in nasty detail, actual scientific discoveries (as opposed to collection descriptions) are glossed over. Cassandra Campbell does a fine reading job and seems to enjoy pronouncing the often complicated French names. Despite the organizational issues, this is a satisfying book. Recommended for all but the smallest public and academic libraries.-I. Pour-El, Des Moines Area Community Coll., Boone, IA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Kirkus Reviews,
Library Journal, October 2007
Publishers Weekly, October 2007
Booklist, December 2007
New York Times Full Text Review, October 2009
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Table of Contents
Introductionp. ix
The Generalp. 1
The Geometer and the Chemistp. 19
The Inventorp. 41
The Institutep. 59
The Engineersp. 89
The Doctorsp. 115
The Mathematicianp. 139
The Artistp. 167
The Naturalistp. 185
The Zoologistp. 195
The Stonep. 209
The Bookp. 219
Epilogue: From Egyptomania to Egyptologyp. 241
Notesp. 249
Bibliographyp. 261
Indexp. 271
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.

This information is provided by a service that aggregates data from review sources and other sources that are often consulted by libraries, and readers. The University does not edit this information and merely includes it as a convenience for users. It does not warrant that reviews are accurate. As with any review users should approach reviews critically and where deemed necessary should consult multiple review sources. Any concerns or questions about particular reviews should be directed to the reviewer and/or publisher.

  link to old catalogue

Report a problem