Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Egypt Fest

In my last couple of posts, I've been on a roll—or maybe at a standstill—with my historical research.

Actually, in addition to hunting up books on Medieval lifestyles and New England architecture, I’ve taken a trip on my Egyptian memory-wagon this summer. 
That part is due to a review book I’ve been reading this summer—Ancient Egypt in 101 Questions and Answers by Thomas Schneider. This particular book wasn’t the easiest read, since I have an electronic version, and it’s really meant to be a hardcopy, with real paper to flip through, jump back several pages, or skim for the next interesting photo.

Ancient Egypt in 101 Questions and Answers

Since this was a review copy, I’ll add that it does have some great information. As a Lit major, I was already familiar with the Romantics’ love for ancient cultures, so I knew about Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias (Question 2). I did not know, however, that ancient Egyptians had their own set of four primary colors—black, red, white, and green—for the Nile mud, the brightness of sunlight, the red deserts, and the water and vegetation that they saw around them (Question 16).

In addition to this sort of trivia, Schneider covers a wide range of history, politics and culture. He mentions the Israelite Exodus and discounts it, claiming a lack of historical evidence or an inability to fit the story into a particular dynasty (Question 5). Schneider also discusses the possibility that the Western world might have followed the Isis cult instead of Christianity had some of the Roman Emperors had their way (Question 7).

Unfortunately, Ancient Egypt really is a reference book, not a history book. The book itself might be good for a quick browse, and some of the questions are interesting enough to justify a second glance or two. Over all, though, the format gives information in quick bites, rather than in a broad overview. If I wanted to learn about Egyptian history or culture, I would look for a general history and keep this book on the shelf until I had a specific question to look up.

This is where the memories come in—most of what I know about ancient Egypt came from the kids’ pictures books I read growing up. I admit it’s not academic in the least, but if I had to look up Egyptian history, I would probably still start with a stack of Usborne books, Eyewitness books, and that Time Traveler book my family still has.

Then there is David McCauley’s Pyramid. (Not to mention McCauley’s City and Castle for other eras.) Pyramid has step-by-step drawings and cut-away pictures showing a pyramid’s construction.  

And, since I tend to pick up as much of my lore from novels as from histories—a couple of my favorite Egyptian novels are still Eloise Jarvis Mcgraw’s The Golden Goblet and Mara, Daughter of the Nile. Of course, that still leaves The Bobbsey Twins and Their Camel Adventure, as well as the Hardy Boys’ The Secret Warning—about sunken ships, insurance fraud, and a mummy. That’s starting to stray from the history theme, but even Agatha Christie wrote a murder novel set in ancient Egypt, Death Comes as the End.

As I said, my background in Egyptian history is not academic in the least. Unorthodox might be the better term—but it sure was fun reading.

What are your favorite ways to learn about Egypt—or history in general?

[My thanks to Net Galley and Cornell University Press for sending me a Kindle ARC of Ancient Egypt in 101 Questions and Answers, in exchange for my opinion of the book.]

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