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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Temples, Tombs, & Hieroglyphs

***** Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs by Barbara Mertz. Nonfiction.

I've been a fan of MPM: Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels for a very long time. She was the first author whose books I owned all of... well, all of her fiction, anyway. This is the first of her nonfiction books written as Barbara Mertz that I've read. I really must look for the other: Red Land, Black Land.

First, a caveat: look at the subtitle: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt. In other words, it's not a textbook. And it's not intended for people who already have degrees in Egyptology. So there's no use complaining that X isn't the latest theory, or that she didn't explain Y in enough depth. It's intended for those of us who'd just like to learn a little about ancient Egypt, and it's perfect for those of us who've already been introduced to the subject through the Amelia Peabody series.

What put this book over the top for me was that it was like having a very good teacher--one who's knowledgeable and enthusiastic about her subject, and who's also very good at passing on that knowledge and enthusiasm to students. Not only do we get the facts of which Pharoah did what and where and (maybe) why, but we also get the story behind the facts. When there are items of dispute among the experts, she explains, briefly but clearly, what the dispute is and why. And she explains (again, briefly but clearly) how the experts know the things they do know--why carbon dating isn't like having a date/time stamp on artifacts, for example.

Most times when I'm reading a nonfiction book, I read it in chunks: a chapter or two, then I put it down and read some light fiction before picking it up again. I didn't do that with this one. Not only that, but I couldn't stop talking about it--just ask my family.

In a nice bit of serendipity, there's an Egyptian exhibit going on through August at the Elfenbein Museum (ivory museum) in Michelstadt--near where Carl's mom lives--about Akhenaton and Nefertiti. We'll be visiting it once Dagny arrives in a couple of weeks. I'll have to read everyone the pertinent chapters so we'll all know what we're looking at.

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