Saturday, 4 November 2017

Review: Ancient Egypt on Five Deben a Day, by Donald P. Ryan

This small book, around 140 pages or so, takes the reader on a voyage through the Egypt of Ramesses II, around 1250 BC.

The approach taken is literally in the form of a journey, with some general chapters about Egyptian attitudes to foreigners (they’re quite xenophobic) naturally flowing to the religious reasoning (they think they’re especially blessed by the gods) and social observations. From there, the book takes the reader from entry to Egypt on the likeliest route (up the Nile), which has the happy coincidence of working both as a tour guide and summary of recent history due to the grand temples and burial sites (some maintained, others very deliberately abandoned) that dot the landscape.

Despite its quite small size, the book is crammed with interesting information written in an intelligent but light-hearted tone (those who have read any of the Unofficial Manuals will find it pleasantly familiar).

Ancient Egypt is not my usual fare, and this is my first history of the place. As such, it was filled with mostly unfamiliar terms (Hyksos, Nubians) although fellow watchers of Stargate: SG-1 will find many of the god names familiar. The book works very well for a complete novice of the period, and I never felt lost historically or geographically. Indeed, the author did a really good job effortlessly mingling historical snippets with the journey south along the Nile.

There are numerous small illustrations throughout, as well as two sets of glossy colour pictures including Egyptian art and impressive temple scenes. A couple of maps are at the back, along with some handy Egyptian phrases (such as “Egypt is much better than my wretched homeland”) and a concise list of the most important gods and their characters.

All in all, an entertaining, informative and interesting book that serves perfectly as an introduction to Ancient Egypt.


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