History is written by those who win and those who dominate.
History is the lie commonly agreed upon.
History is a damn dim candle over a damn dark abyss.
—W. S. Holt
History is indeed the witness of the times, the light of truth.
In the Egyptian wing of London's British Museum, I hovered by the Rosetta Stone, waiting for the guards to look away. When a child stumbled over the corner of a lesser relic, distracting the guards, I moved in. Holding my breath, I reached over the steel barrier, stretched out my trembling hand, and ran it across the letters on the Stone. My fingertips gently stroked the cold surface, racing along ancient corners of mysterious symbols: in one motion, I touched more history than fills many men's dreams. With my hand back at my side, I strolled away, ashamed and thrilled, praying against alarms and handcuffs that never came. I didn't wash that hand all day, lost in imagining the important men behind the Stone (see Figure 2-1).
But when the thrill of my museum mischief faded, one frustration remained: the Stone is famous for reasons irrelevant to those who conceived it. The stonecutters could not have imagined their work in a European museum 2,000 years in the future, with hired guards protecting it from hooligans like me. Yet, there it sat, as if its destiny was to be found in a rubble pile by the French, used to decipher hieroglyphics, and, finally, displayed in its true resting place ...