Archarologist Mertz casts light on a remarkable civilization that, even after thousands of years, still stirs the human imagination and inspires awe with its marvelous mysteries and amazing accomplishments. This chronicle brings ancient Egypt to life as never before, from the first Stone Age settlements through the reign of Cleopatra and the Roman invasions. Illustrated with pictures, maps, photographs, and charts, it offers glimpses into Egyptian society and everyday life; stories of the pharaohs and the rise and fall of great dynasties; religion and culture; folklore and fairy tales; stories of the explorers, scientists, and unmitigated scoundrels who sought to unravel or exploit the ageless mysteries; and insights into the magnificent architectural wonders that rose up from the desert sands. Revised and updated to include the results of the most recent historical research and archaeological finds, Dr. Mertz's lively writing is unhampered by stuffy prose and dry academic formality.--From publisher description.
Mertz is a joy to listen to, whether she is describing ancient Egyptian science and architecture, the imposing Queen Hapshetsut, the religious fanaticism of Akenahten, the grandiose monuments of Ramses, the ubiquitous tomb pots, or the villainous and rage-inducing tomb robbers of centuries ago. But more humorously, she is not afraid to take cheap shots at her fellow Egyptologists, poking fun at the inanity of certain scholarly debates. I only wish she had discussed more Egyptian myth and religion in addition to history and archaeology. I also wish I had read the book instead of listened to the audio because I missed out on images and maps I hear are in the real thing!
Still, I really enjoyed this book, and now I want to read more.
Keeping straight thousands of years of Egyptian history isn't easy, and I found the book useful because it put things
Her writing talent is part of the reason this is a good book – the other part is it’s highly idiosyncratic; she admittedly and unabashedly writes about those parts of Egyptian history that interest her and skims over – but with references – those that don’t. Thus the Predynastic, the pyramids, Hatshepsut, and the Amarna period get a lot of coverage. I especially liked her explanation of how William Flinders Petrie did pottery sequence dating – every other Egyptian history mentions pottery sequence dating, but this is the only one that actually explains how it works.
Conventional histories usually gloss over uncertain topics – I suspect because the authors stick to their own opinions. Mertz is happy to point out that Egyptologists don’t agree on a lot of things – the exact classification of Predynastic cultures, who was Menes, Kurt Sethe’s theories about Hapshesut (and the question of who started chiseling Hatshepsut off monuments), how many Montuhoteps and Osorkons there were, and so on. Unfortunately, she had a very strong opinion on one of the controversies – who’s buried in KV55 – and, according to recent DNA evidence, she was wrong (to be fair, she was taking the view supported by almost all the evidence – that it was Smenkhkare – while the contrary position, that it was Ahkenaton, was only held by armwaving fringe Egyptologists). The armwaving fringe turned out to be right, and it’s doubling unfortunate because this is a revised edition of a book published 40 years ago and if she had waited just a little longer the DNA data would have been in.
It’s especially unfortunate because otherwise Mertz’s handling of the Amarna period is outstanding. You might expect a romance novelist to go a little overboard – Amarna, after all, is the only period in Egyptian history where there is any hint of royal romance. Perhaps because of that Mertz does a terrific job of summarizing the facts (at least as known at the time of her writing). Fun to read, informative, gives a real feel for “warts and all” Egyptology, and recommended.