Select one of the keywords
Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt    by Barbara Mertz order for
Red Land, Black Land
by Barbara Mertz
Order:  USA  Can
William Morrow, 2008 (1966)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Deb Kincaid

Itís been more than forty years since publication of the original Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt. In the intervening decades there have been new discoveries, reevaluation of old data and artifacts, and, in particular, far more available information on ancient Egyptian queens, among them Hatshepsut and Queen Tiye. Egyptologist Barbara Mertz has kindly revised her original work to bring us this utterly readable, un-textbook-like peek into ancient Egyptian culture.

The book's title refers to Egypt's black, fertile soil along the Nile River and delta, and the red, dry desert ranging through much of the rest of the country. Mertz covers more than thirty Egyptian dynasties from 3150 BC to 332 BC, as well as the Ptolemaic Dynasty and Egypt's period as a Roman province.

Topics she examines include manners of dress and grooming, household pets, architectural style, and typical foods. She goes on to describe education, scribal schools, hieroglyphic writing, and the blurry lines between worship, medicine, science and magic. Last, she fills us in on customs associated with tombs, mummification, and burial procedures.

Interestingly, the story isn't told through a military, religious, or even strictly chronological lens. Rather, the author approaches ancient Egypt merely as a land of human beings - of necessity, royal houses and upper echelons of society, true - who in some ways are not too different from people today. The author admits that little is known about the life of peasants and other commoners - they didn't have the means to build tombs and pyramids to preserve their place in history. Still, the author's warm, nonjudgmental glimpse puts human faces and flesh on skeletal history.

Mertz makes some intriguing statements at the outset: 'This is not a book about ancient Egyptian culture; it is about ancient Egyptians.' And this one: 'History is not a series of facts; it is a series of opinions and theories, some solidly based, some sheer nonsense, most more or less probable.' Her refreshing candor, combined with her indisputable knowledge and sense of humor (she can't resist chiding her colleagues on occasion), make this account of ancient Egyptian society enjoyable reading.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews