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

3.69 of 5 stars 3.69  ·  rating details  ·  215 ratings  ·  59 reviews
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, un...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 9th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published January 1st 2007)
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In 1798, the young French Republic is at war with just about everyone in Europe who doesn’t want the French brand of revolution to spread. 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 do...more
Napoleon’s core of scientific adventurers in Egypt is arguably the greatest singular event to straddle those two reductive “Ages” of European history—ie the Enlightenment and the Romantic. It is also a complete disaster. What a ride! Of course, Mirage is great as an audiobook for road trips b/c the actor takes relish with all those French names... I mean relish in the most literal sense.

With a few tweaks, Mirage would also serve well as a turn-based strategy game. I'm thinking Risk meets Oregon...more
Napoleon rounds up brilliant men and strands them in Egypt. They settle in abandoned Mameluke mansions. Good story, great details about the setting. Not too much science for this non-scientist. Good other details about Mr. Conte, (inventor of Conte crayons) and others you might NEED to know about.
The stories recounted in this book are fascinating and it's sobering to realize how readily men's lives were thrown away because of Napoleon's delusions. I found the author's style sensationalist at times. She was also occasionally incorrect with small details. As an art historian, the one that leapt out to me was her discussion of a famous painting of Napoleon at Jaffa as by Jacques-Louis David, The painting in question is by Baron Gros. If such an obvious art historical error was made, what er...more
At the end of the 18th century France, eager to establish itself as a colonial power on a par with its neighbor and rival, England, sent General (and celebrity) Napoleon at the head of an army to Egypt to secure the land. At the time Egypt was a legendary place. Like any territory hovering at the edge of reason all sorts of mythical attributes were assigned to it. Hieroglyphics were more than words, they were magical writing.

Along with the army, a select force of the best french students, scient...more
Frank Terry
This book really, was wonderful. I've spent the last week reading it and I'm really glad that I did. Like I said, I think, back when I finished The Guns of August, I don't really know a whole lot about history and haven't read a ton of history books, but personally, I absolutely loved this book.

There was an awful, awful lot to it that made it worth reading. Learning about the different scientists that Napoleon brought with him to Egypt was really something.

Learning about all of the incredible an...more
Jay Rubenstein
Despite what I do for a living, I get easily bored with history books. Not this one. A great cast of characters and a great setting. It answered one of my biggest questions as a tourist to the British Museum -- how did the Rosetta Stone end up in England if Napoleon discovered it? As for Napoleon, he comes off looking worse than expected, his Egyptian expedition a bigger disaster than I'd imagined.
John Gaudet
Nina Burleigh's, Mirage: Napoleon's Scientists and the Unveiling of Egypt (HarperCollins, 2007) is a historical non-fiction book about Napoleon's occupation of Egypt. That campaign in 1798 is among history's more memorable military fiascos. Napoleon himself beat a retreat back to France after just a year, but his troops remained as uneasy and unwilling occupiers in an exploratory expedition gone wrong, a situation that we are told by the historian Juan Cole in an article in The Nation, that is p...more
A great introduction to the French "occupation" of Egypt, I just wish Burleigh had gone more in depth. In the end the sum feels very shallow, like she just barely scraped the surface. My interest was very much captured; wish there was more.
Very disappointing.

This book is about the scientists and scholars that accompanied Napoleon in his quest to invade Egypt in 1798, not about the invasion itself.

Sadly, the author has a typical orientalist view of the French invasion, or "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. While the Arabs who were gen...more
Tommy Powell
I love Napoleon and this book is an excellent addition to what I've already read. His Egyptian campaign was as much a farce as it was an expedition, but what an undertaking.

Bonaparte involves two dissimilar factions -the French Soldiery and many French scientists- in a woefully under-resourced romp across an absolutely unfamiliar country. Soldiers dying of thirst drink greedily from wells that are full of tiny leaches which cling to the lining of their throats. Plague sweeps through the ranks of...more
Mirage is an excellent book. It tells the story of the Napoleon's ill-fated expedition to Egypt in 1798, focusing on the 150 "savants" (scientists, engineers, artists, and doctors) that accompanied Napoleon and the French Army. The expedition started poorly with Nelson (British Navy) destroying the French fleet, essentially leaving the army marooned in Egypt. The French later had to fend for themselves after Napoleon abandoned his army and escaped back to France. Through this turmoil, the savant...more
Glenn Robinson
A book about the time the French were in Egypt and the scientists that went along with the army. Interesting bio's on engineers, inventors, historians and more. Wrapped in is the individual stories of how they survived the French Revolution, dealt with poor logistical planning by Napolean and life in Cairo at the turn if the 19th century. This was a time when the ancient Pyramids were new, the Sphinx still half way covered by sand and no one knew what to make of the monuments in Luxor.
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It's filled with colorful characters adrift in unfamiliar surroundings, forced to improvise, explore, and keep from turning on each other. Juicy anecdotes abound, and the writing is smooth and engaging. The narrative moves along efficiently, balancing portraits of individual scientists with a broader account of the French expedition to Egypt. In the end, though, the details never seemed to fully cohere into an argument for the significance of the Frenc...more
Powder River Rose
An enormous amount of information yet artfully compiled into a book of amazing discoveries, exceptional scientific revelations as well as profound suffering, absolute arrogance and complete stupidity. This story is of then General Napoleon's invasion of Egypt which even from the great good that eventually came of this journey also led to disastrous cultural plunder then and in future years.
I highly recommend this book.
Dec 08, 2008 Roberta rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Napoleon and/or Egyptology.
Recommended to Roberta by: Delta Kappa Gamma Society International
Nina Burleigh portrays Napoleon blundering into Egypt with a group of scientists and his military in tow. If it wasn't so sad, it is quite ridiculous to imagine these men trudging through the desert without water and dressed in heavy woolen uniforms. Only a mad man would consider such a thing, which I guess Napoleon was. He wasn't a details man. No micromanagement there. Luckily his scientists did their own thing and actually contributed to scientific and cultural knowledge of Egypt.
I found this...more
Gerald Curtis
An excellent documentary, not so much about Napoleon as about the beginnings of Egyptology and the subsequent plundering of Egypt.

I learned a lot. I grieved for the hardship the scientists endured, and admired their contributions.
An interesting but poorly organized account of Napoleon's ill conceived invasion of Egypt. While the subject matter was interesting and the prose engaging, the author frequently repeated herself, and many tidbits of information were repeated almost verbatim in several chapters. There was an attempt, I think, to find a satisfying middle ground between a chronological account of the invasion and a biographical account for each of the scientists involved. Regardless of organization, I learned a lot...more
Margo Brooks
Audiobook. An entertaining account of Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and the scholars who went with him to record for posterity what they found. The account focuses on a handful of scholars, many of who were particular friends of Napoleon, to paint the broad back drop of the campaign its rigors, terrors and accomplishments. Quite good, although I would recommend the print version to the audiobook since there are many things people may want to refer back to as the account unfolds. I was particularl...more
Donna Jo Atwood
I knew very little about Napoleon's venture into Egypt, except that the Rosetta Stone was discovered there. I was fascinated with this account of the scientific community that he took with him in his failed attempt to conquer Egypt.
Burleigh concentrates on 10 of the scientists who spent several years of their lives in an alien culture. (Egypt might as well have been a new galaxy to them since so little was known about conditions there.)
Between the weather, the political situation, the French Ar...more
Interesting book, and as usual with Ms. Burleigh's work, quite well written and based upon a good bit of comprehensive research.
I'd known the story of the "acquisition" of the Rosetta Stone by the British Museum, but had not appreciated the extent of Napoleon's Egyptian endeavor, nor understood the scope of the scientific investigations.
The book leaves one wanting to know a bit more, and to see, if possible, more images from the official French publication of the Expeditions findings, Descript...more
An interesting history focusing on the little known Egyptian campaign of Napoleon's war. A little bit less focus on the campaign than I would have preferred, but a large focus on the para-scientific and scholarly expedition that accompanied the French Army of 36,000 to Egypt. It could have used a bit more background on the scholar's accomplishments before the expedition, but even so, without this book I would have had no idea that Fourier accompanied Napoleon to the desert for three years.
Again I am reminded of why I fell for French civilization shortly after starting French 1 in high school back in 1970: the French are so un-English! They may have done a lot of "bad" (Napoleon is not really much better than Hitler in many aspects), but their desire to bring their civilization to others while studying and preserving the local civilization is commendable for a colonial power, I suppose. The text is poorly written, but it is written with enthusiasm, which excuses some things.
Tom Schulte
Engrossing telling of the near mystical allure of the French revolutionary army to a suicidal embrace with magical Egypt. At Karnak, I saw Frenchmen still laboring on re-building that massive complex - task descendants of Napoleon's late 18th Century invasion.

Most interesting to me in this book was the foundation work for Darwinism done by naturalists attached to the invasion force and the journey of the Rosetta Stone from French discovery to London.
David Cerruti
I chose this from the suggested reading list of the group, History: Actual, Fictional and Legendary.

The book is fairly described on the Goodreads page. An excellent review by Steve is currently the first review. Both are at .

The good: well researched, interesting, good analysis – 5 stars.
The mediocre: occasionally flowery writing style, with the hint of exaggeration – 3 stars.
Overall rating = 4 stars.
Burleigh offers a welcome fresh perspective on Napoleon's Egyptian campaign by focusing on the stories of ten of the savants who accompanied the Little Corporal to the Middle East. The author shows how these men, mostly under very trying conditions, were able to make discoveries of immense historical and scientific importance. Their discoveries were the only true victories in Napoleon's otherwise disastrous & ill-conceived adventure.
This was a very interesting and informative book on the excursion by the French to Egypt, detailing the various personalities involved and the different sciences represtented to try to unearth the mysteries of Egypt which led to the great "Egyptomania" craze of the 1800s in Europe. I was a bit disappointed that more of the actual discoveries weren't detailed, but seeing as how this was a book about the scientists themselves, that was acceptable.
Guy Wade
I am coming to realize that I love history. This book is written from the scientists' viewpoint, which appealed to me. The rich details Burleigh included gave me a good sense of the audacity that of Bonaparte's Egyptian campaign. It was real life and yet of epic proportions at the same time.

I enjoyed Burleigh's style of writing. She was clearly the authority of the history, as well as a good storyteller.
I found this to be a great introduction into the scientific and political climate of the time period. I had no real knowledge of what Egypt was like at this time, so I was particularly interested in how the people lived, and how the soldiers and scientists adjusted, not just what finds and developments they were making. I would definitely recommend as a supplement to a history or archeology class.
A very interesting look at Napoleon's invasion of Egypt and the plight of the poor scientists who went with him. What they found were some of the most important finds of the time.
However the appalling mismanagement of the whole expedition with the terrible lose of lives due to Napoleon's arrogance and stupidity certainly re-enforces my image of a very cunning stupidity.
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Nina is an award-winning author and journalist. She has written four books and has been published in the New Yorker, Time, New York and People, among many other journals and rags. She has occasionally shellacked her hair for television, including Good Morning America, Nightline, and various programs on CNN and C-Span, as well as flogged books on NPR and countless radio outlets.

The daughter of auth...more
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