The Pyramid Seller; Why Book on Hieroglyphics Is Surprise Hit of the Summer

Article excerpt

Byline: BARBARA DAVIES

AT first glance, it would seem to be the unlikeliest contender for a holiday bestseller since Tutenkhamen was a boy.

There's no hero or heroine, and not the hint of a storyline.Though gods, kings, death, sex and war feature strongly in its pages, a racy thriller it is not.

Yet thousands of people are turning their backs on the more usual choice of a light summertime book and reaching instead for How To Read Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Already on the bestseller list, the volume had sold 30,151 copies by last Thursday, putting it on a par with Encore Provence by the ever-popular Peter Mayle.

As demand continued to rise this week, the book's publishers, British Museum Press, announced a second print run of 9,000.

No one could be more suprised than the authors. Egyptologists Mark Collier and Bill Manley originally intended their book for their usual audience of mature students and admit they are baffled by its success. Their work - released without

Closed for the weekend, the firm which left any fanfare - is the first teach-yourself hieroglyph book to emerge since the first guides were published more than 70 years ago.

'We expected a relatively small group of people, dedicated, with a long-term interest, and we thought it might expand to a few hundreds or few thousands, but not this volume of response,' said Dr Collier, 37, a lecturer in Egyptology at Liverpool University and a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

'There is a very large body of people, almost an underground sect, who for years and years have been interested in learning hieroglyphs.

We latched on to this more by accident than design.' Last week, the authors were teaching students how to translate hieroglyphs at the Bloomsbury Summer School run by University College, London.

Dr Manley, 34, who lectures in Egyptology at Edinburgh University, said: 'I was aware from my own student days that there were a lot of poeple who were so devoted to the study of ancient Egypt that they would give up jobs so that they could go to university to study full time.

'It seemed only fair that there should be a different option, so we set up this diploma.

'The key to this for me was that people should study the language.

By doing that they didn't just have to deal with ancient Egypt as it was interpreted for them by a tutor, they could get at the source material themselves.' He added: 'We sat down and thought - what would we need to do to teach somebody hieroglyphs properly so they really understood what they were doing and could also see the results for themselves by looking at real inscriptions in the museums? …