So it turns out A Traveller in Italy (1964) has been great bedtime reading - interesting but not so much that it keeps me awake. Well, not often. Every now and then there's a bit of history in it that makes me stop and grab my cell phone to do a quick wikipedia search. Which is not something that makes me sleepy. Luckily this only happens every 20 pages or so.
The last quote that made me want to go book buying was this paragraph on p. 320:
"I found the vast hall above the market occupied by...two statues of the Egyptian cat goddess, the gift of Padua's giant son, Giovanni Belzoni. I fell under his spell in early life, and have often wondered why his exciting adventures among the tombs and pyramids of Egypt, at a time long before anyone could read Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, have never been reprinted. He was an attractive, good-natured giant, six feet six inches in height, who delighted audiences at S. Bartholomew's Fair and Astley's Amphitheatre in London during the reign of George III when, dressed as Hercules, in a panther skin, he performed prodigious feats of strength. He attracted an equally large Amazon, who became Mrs. Belzoni, and together the two giants went off to Egypt to sell hydraulic pumps to pashas. It was appropriate that the Paduan Hercules, who had studied engineering in Italy, should have been chosen to lift the colossal granite bust of Ramses II for transport to the British Museum; a feat which led him to explore tombs and temples up and down the Nile. He was the first man to excavate the temple of Abu Simbel, now a victim of 'vandalisme utilitaire,' and he was the first European to penetrate to the mummy chamber of the Great Pyramid. Though Belzoni was no scholar, he was one of the greatest of the Near Eastern travellers, and his Narrative, with the large volume of highly-coloured tomb paintings drawn and tinted by himself, is the most fascinating work of the kind in English. They still recall in Padua that when he returned in middle age, a famous traveller, bearing two cat goddesses as a gift to his native town, a gold medal was struck in his honour. Five years later the charming giant died on his way to Timbuktu."
That's the story as this author tells it (and he's unreliable, as I've blogged before) - so here's the wikipedia version, which is a bit more fleshed out (at least with cited sources): Giovanni Battista Belzoni
And thanks to the Internet Archive, here's his book:
Narrative of the operations and recent discoveries within the pyramids, temples, tombs, and excavations, in Egypt and Nubia; and of a journey to the coast of the Red Sea, in search of the ancient Berenice, and of another to the oasis of Jupiter Ammon (1820)
I haven't done more than flip through the pages in that - I found myself more interested in the Further Reading section in wikipedia. Especially after I discovered one of them specifically mentions Belzoni's wife. Because she went along with him on those travels, I'm immediately interested - women managing to travel when they were encouraged not to do so (in particular periods of history) is a theme in books I've been reading lately.