Monday, May 23, 2011

Book Review: The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

The Washinton Post (Steve Donoghue)

When the third-century B.C. Egyptian historian Manetho wrote “Aegyptiaca,” his dynasty-by-dynasty account of a great civilization, the realm of the pharaohs was already vastly ancient. For Manetho, as for us in the present day, ancient Egypt’s main beguilement was its sheer, strange antiquity. The more we think about that age and strangeness, the more ancient Egypt seems like an exotic fantasy-realm, like something out of Michael Moorcock or M. John Harrison.

“It is extremely difficult to engage with a culture so remote in time and place from our own,” writes veteran Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson in the opening pages of his new book, “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt,” and hundreds of authors have discovered that difficulty and retreated, baffled, into pseudo-myth and half-hearted mysticism. Luckily, Wilkinson isn’t one of those authors. His 2007 book, “Lives of the Ancient Egyptians,” was an immensely engaging work of informed archaeological reconstruction, and his latest is even better: This a magnificent, illuminating and refreshingly readable overview of the entire phenomenon of ancient Egypt.

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