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Egypt: 3000 Years of Civilization Brought to Life    by Global Publishing order for
by Global Publishing
Order:  USA  Can
Raincoast, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This magnificent coffee table book invites readers to 'enjoy walking through the world of ancient Egypt' under its guidance. It comes attractively boxed, to protect its contents over time, and includes a bonus CD-ROM. The latter covers the same major topics, providing a different way of exploring the information - as well as a structured progression, it has a search capability, related weblinks, and an interface that allows users to write in hieroglyphs. The book's 1200 superb images include maps, timelines, hieroglyphs, lithographs, places, monuments, statuary and other objects, all in color. This magnificent volume's contributors (listed at the beginning) are archaeologists and Egyptologists from all around the world.

Like many others, I have been fascinated by Egypt for a long time, that interest taking me from viewing exhibits at the British Museum to reading Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody series. Why Egypt versus other ancient world civilizations? Perhaps because it's better documented, with so many sumptuous treasures unearthed by archaeologists down the years. That historical affluence is presented beautifully in this book (and CD) under six major sections; Origins (Predynastic and Early Dynastic); Pyramids (the Old Kingdom); Unity (the Middle Kingdom); Warriors (the New Kingdom); Occupation (the 3rd Intermediate Period to the Roman Period); and Rediscovery (the development of Egyptology). Chapters are divided into subtopics, each mixing text with many images.

An Introduction to Ancient Egypt discusses the variety of people and geography in the country, and the importance of the Nile (which flooded annually) in linking them. It also covers the difficulty of extracting a reasonably accurate view of history from all the subjective 'rags and tatters' available, including techniques used in dating. In Origins, we learn of modern archaeology's efforts to delve 'to the very roots of Egyptian civilization', with topics like early craft specialization, the ethnic origins of the first Egyptians, wet periods when evidence shows 'the Desert Bloomed', evolution of the concept of 'sacred kingship', and the birth of writing.

We learn next about the Old Kingdom, a stable period when all levels of society were governed by religion with the ruler as god and military leader. I was interested to learn of Egypt's first female king Nitocris, of the meaning of Maat (a philosophical concept incorporating 'truth, justice, balance, and harmony'), of how the pyramids known to us today evolved from earlier tombs, and the fact that they were probably built by villages of workers rather than the slaves shown to us by Hollywood. In the Middle Kingdom era, I enjoyed reading a summary of a famous literary piece, The Tale of Sinuhe, and about evidence of contact between Egypt and Crete.

In Warriors, we're told of New Kingdom kings 'bestriding their world like giants for more than five centuries' and finally falling by the sword. Horses and chariors showed up early in this era. Famed rulers include queen Ahhotep, who fought in battle, Thutmose III, 'compared to Napoleon Bonaparte', and of course the heretic Akhenaten, his wife Nefertiti, and son Tutankhamun. After the decline of the Ramessids comes Occupation - by Libyans, Nubians, Assyrians, Persians, and Alexander the Great - in whose wake, Ptolemy ruled and founded the Great Library of Alexandria. Cleopatra VII belonged to his dynasty, and Rome took over on her death, followed by Arab conquest in the 7th century CE.

Finally comes Rediscovery, 'the events that turned Egyptology from a treasure hunt into a science'. We learn about classical tourists, extensive Arab scholarship in the 7th and 6th centuries CE, the medicinal use of mummy powder, Napoleon's fascination with Pharaonic Egypt, the looting of antiquities, the Cairo Museum, great scientific Egyptology projects, major discoveries, and the urgent issue of conservation. There is so much in Egypt: 3000 Years of Civilization Brought to Life that it's impossible to do it justice here. It's a spectacular resource for anyone interested in the country's abundant heritage, and would make an awesome gift.

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