The Story Of Egypt: The Civilization That Shaped The World, by Joann Fletcher
In one way, this book is a bit of a tease. This book is a story about Egyptian civilization, but like many books on the subject, this is a book that focuses on ancient Egypt. This is understandable, but many readers can be forgiven for not realizing that Egyptian civilization did not suddenly cease because Egypt was conquered by Rome around 30AD. Of course, discussing Egyptian history during the period of the Roman, Byzantine, and various later Muslim periods is by no means an easy task. It is hard enough covering the 3000+ years of ancient Egypt and that is what this book sets out to do. It is a narrative story, by no means complete but focusing as much as possible on issues of narrative, by no means ignoring those who do not happen to be royals, to the extent that such people enter into the historical record, makes it a pleasant enough account even if I would have liked more. When a book leaves you wanting more even when it is a large book, that is a good sign that there is something right about the book at least.
This book is a modest sized book for its material, only a bit more than 350 pages of material to cover thousands of years of history, to say nothing of prehistory. The book begins with an introduction, after which the author spends a couple of chapters talking about the beginning of Egypt (1), something everyone who talks about Egyptian history seems to want to do in biblical terms, as well as the period when the Sahara was a savannah before becoming a desert (2). Then there is a discussion of the move from the drying Sahara oases to the river (3) and the division between northern and southern Egypt (4), which endured in memory in describing Egypt. After that there is a discussion of early rulers (5) who unified the two lands, the shifting focus of early Old Kingdom Egypt (6), and the pyramid builders (7). After that there is a discussion of sun worship (8), the rule of Ra (9), and the troubles that ended the Old Kingdom (10) and led to the disastrous first intermediate period (11). After that, there is a discussion of the Middle Kingdom (12) as well as the proliferation of royal heirs that led to its disintegration (13), and the brutality of Hykso rule (14). This is followed by a discussion of the dawn of the New Kingdom (15), its peak (16), troubled period at the close of the eighteenth dynasty (17), militaristic rule of the Ramessides (18), its decline, rise and fall during the late intermediate period (19), and the final flourish of Macedonian rule (20), after which the book ends with a chronology, note on spellings, acknowledgements, notes on sources, select bibliography, picture acknowledgements, and index.
The story of Egypt is one that fills me with a good deal of sadness. It is hard for me to celebrate societies where ordinary people live grim lives of privation and suffering just so pampered elites can squabble over empty titles and the illusion of power while inflicting misery upon others. I find it hard to celebrate societies devoted to foreign conquest and the domination of others. To be sure, there is no shortage of such peoples, and some would say that imperialism as a whole is precisely that, and that empires like ancient Egypt demonstrate the basic template of imperial rule that would be followed in the rest of the world, with many of those occasions where Egypt was the imperial subject rather than the imperial overlord. We start to see that process happen at the end of the Middle Kingdom period, where first the Hyksos and then the Libyans and Nubians and then the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, followed by many others after the course of this book, dominated the land of the Pharaohs. Yet this book and its contents lead us not to feel pity at the Egyptians, for they were only paid in the same coin that they gave out to others starting in ancient history.