07 Feb 2006
Ancient Egypt” is the perfect antidote to those Time-Life books about ancient civilizations, where you look at the pictures and read the text and wonder, “is that all there is?”
Well, of course there is. The problem is finding it. This collection of essays uses words, pictures, artwork and imaginative reconstructions to describe the ancient world ruled by gods and which built monuments that have lasted millennia.
The book’s 15 chapters opens all aspects of the Nile kingdom’s world. In addition to the expected sections on the pyramids, its hieroglyphs and Pharaohs, “Ancient Egypt” also delves into religious beliefs, political campaigns, the role of women, the development of towns and trade and the daily rituals of its people.
Wrapped around the text are superlative photographs, shorter articles about equally fascinating subjects (a profile of Ramesses the Great in the section on Pharaohs, for example, or on the “letters” to the dead, written on simple pottery bowls and deposited in the tomb or coffin), plenty of colorful reproductions of Egyptian art so vivid that the course of individual brush-strokes could be seen, and commissioned drawings giving theories of how pyramids were built, and what the Temple of Karnak must have looked like at its height.
But what really shines are the little touches. A closeup of an Egyptian artist, his scruffy hair and scraggy beard making him look like a New York bohemian, using an odd-shaped tool on a wooden beam; the vivid face of a long-dead woman painted on a board and included with her mummy wrappings, gazing at the reader with the poise of nobility; a piece of prose passed among the scribes that mocks all other trades —
“the potter is under the soil, although he stands among the living. He grubs in the mud more than a pig in order to bake his pots”
— or, a drawing of a fortress built to impress the Nubians in southern Egypt, looking for all the world, with its towers and crenellations like something out of medieval Europe.
So much about ancient Egypt seems so familiar, but, really, we were just watching “The Ten Commandments,” or remembering the villain King Tut from the old Batman TV show.”Ancient Egypt” shows us what we were missing.