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National Geographic has a well-deserved reputation for quality writing and even greater photography, and in this text, they do not disappoint. Author Brian Fagan and photographer Kenneth Garrett have put together a stellar offering here in 'Egypt of the Pharoahs'. This is an historical period that lasted several thousand years -- Egypt is one of the original civilisations in the world -- and quite an undertaking for any author and photographer. This is meant as more of an accessible survey than an in-depth, critical analysis of ancient Egyptian history; a coffee-table book and a gift book, this text is also good for students and generalists for basic background on Egyptian history.
The major sections of the text follow the historical progression: Egypt before the Pharoahs (circa 3100 BCE), the Old Kingdom (to 2000 BCE), the Middle Kingdom (to 1500 BCE), the New Kingdom (to 1000 BCE), and finally the late period, ending with the overthrow of Cleopatra (actually, Cleopatra VII) by Octavian (later Augustus), who brought Egyptian independence to an end.
Egypt is perhaps best known for the pyramids, and in particular, the pyramids of Giza, one of the seven ancient wonders of the world (and the only one still standing). However, the vast richness of Egyptian history, as a regional superpower for literally thousands of years, extends far beyond the pyramids. The development of writing in the hieroglyph manner, while not adapted much beyond the Egyptian sphere of influence, nonetheless became symbolic of literacy and artistic ability in the ancient world. The fantastic cities, temples, and other public works beyond the pyramids show a high degree of engineering and cultural development, made all the more impressive by the fact that Egypt was almost entirely isolated for much of its existence by deserts, mountains, and seas.
The fame of Egypt spread early, attracting settlers and conquerors from beyond. Egypt was not always a unified kingdom; in addition to being occasionally divided, it was for the last thousand years (at least) of its independence ruled by foreign rulers (rather akin to a German royal family ascending the throne of England); even the last of the pharoahs, the Ptolemy family, was an 'import' from Greek lands.
This text traces the development of Egypt in glorious photographs, from the earliest inscriptions and constructions, to the final days of Cleopatra, including the inscriptions and engravings showing the presentation of Caesarion in the temple as heir to Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. Every page is a glorious glossy plate, and practically every page has a full-colour photograph to enhance the story. Some photographs are of objects currently residing in musuems (both in Egypt and abroad), while others are in situ. True to National Geographic form, there are maps of Egypt during the different periods, giving geographic context for the stories and photographs.
A basic timeline is introduced early in the text, and repeated throughout at the beginning of each chapter. At each repetition, the particular time segment of the timeline is expanded to show the names of all the pharoahs in that particular era, grouped by dynasty. These lists are not always complete, however; sometimes our knowledge of the era is incomplete, and sometimes space in the text demands certain omissions.
Even for the advanced student of ancient Egypt, this text will make a nice addition to the library due to the quality of the photographs. For all others, this makes a fascinating read of a well-known but little understood period in human history.