Friday, June 20, 2008

Unbroken story of human progress


Book Review: A History of Egypt: From earliest times to the present, Jason Thompson, Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2008. pp383, 2 maps, 80 b/w photos

Here's an extract from Jill Kamil 's review:

With his new book, Jason Thompson attempts the ambitious task of covering the entire span of Egyptian history from its earliest settlers to the present day. This is the first major work of its kind, and it succeeds triumphantly. Never before has any individual tried to provide a comprehensive coverage of Egyptian history from predynastic settlements through the pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman, Coptic and Islamic eras, followed by the Ottoman Turks, the birth of modern Egypt, mid- nineteenth-century Egypt, the British occupation and the parliamentary era through to Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak.

A History of Egypt is a remarkable work of synthesis, cohesion, and understanding. "Egypt," he writes in his Preface, "is the most written-about land in the world, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for writers and interest for readers -- but they almost invariably concentrate on one particular period, as if hermetically sealed from each other. Yet few if any lands have as many threads of continuity running throughout their entire historical experience as Egypt. While the country has changed almost beyond recognition, one is repeatedly confronted by the paradox -- indeed the outright contradiction -- that many aspects of Egyptian culture have remained recognisably the same and can be documented across the millennia."

On his vast canvas Thompson's oversights, if there are any, are trivial and not worth mentioning. What is worthy of note is that Egyptian history can be treated as a whole, and that, by drawing on historical scholarship as well as his own research, Thompson has written a one- volume narrative of the extraordinarily long course of human history by the Nile.

A History of Egypt is an important book, a distinguished work of scholarship and of understanding. It provides an engaging one-volume narrative of the extraordinarily long course of human history, tracing how Egypt emerged from predynastic kingdoms, through pharaonic, Ptolemaic, Roman, Byzantine, Coptic, mediaeval Islamic, and Ottoman eras, to its nation-state status in the 21st century.

Let me add that the book is timely. The National Museum of Egyptian History on the pyramid plateau at Giza is well on its way to completion, and it, too, will cover under one roof the whole span of Egyptian history from the most ancient past to the present.

See the above link for the full review.

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