Wilkinson’s ambitious focus is the hundred years of Egyptology between Jean-Francois Champollion’s groundbreaking deciphering of the Rosetta stone in 1822 and Howard Carter’s sensational discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922 ... The quiet yet salient revelation of Wilkinson’s study — and what makes the story of 19th-century Egyptology relevant now — is how the Anglo-French obsession with Egypt’s past and their frantic bid for control of its future gradually spurred the downtrodden modern Egyptians toward a newfound self-awareness ... All the fascinating giants of Egyptology appear here ... This is a riveting, sometimes appalling story. I think it’s important to say that Wilkinson’s prose style is so smooth and straight and unadorned as to be nearly nonexistent ... Wilkinson is a consummate historian ... Rarely do facts speak this clearly.
A World Beneath the Sands tells a gripping story by means of all the wayward eccentrics and heroic archaeologists who devoted their lives to uncovering the world’s most ancient and dazzling monuments from beneath unimaginable depths of windblown sand ... The story zips along as they race against each other ... In 1923 Arthur Weigall complained about the arid scholarliness of many of his fellow Egyptologists ... He would have loved this book.
Toby Wilkinson’s new history of the golden age of Egyptology is also very much a history of western willy-waving ... Over the course of his fluent and entertaining narrative, the explorations and excavations of archaeologists are always placed firmly in the context of great power politics ... Wilkinson, framing Champollion’s character and achievements against the backdrop of French colonial ambitions, does not hesitate to frame them as well against the almost complete lack of interest shown by Egyptians in the antiquities of their country ... The challenge faced by Champollion, of negotiating a tension between a buried past and an uncertain future, did not end with him, however ... Wilkinson has a talent for vignette, and by sketching how different scholars and archaeologists negotiated the demands of their infant discipline he succeeds as well in creating a consistently fascinating gallery of characters.