Summary and book reviews of The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

By Toby Wilkinson

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2011,
    656 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2013,
    656 pages.

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Book Summary

In this landmark work, one of the world's most renowned Egyptologists tells the epic story of this great civilization, from its birth as the first nation-state to its final absorption into the Roman Empire—three thousand years of wild drama, bold spectacle, and unforgettable characters.

Award-winning scholar Toby Wilkinson captures not only the lavish pomp and artistic grandeur of this land of pyramids and pharaohs but for the first time reveals the constant propaganda and repression that were its foundations. Drawing upon forty years of archaeological research, Wilkinson takes us inside an exotic tribal society with a pre-monetary economy and decadent, divine kings who ruled with all-too-recognizable human emotions.

Here are the years of the Old Kingdom, where Pepi II, made king as an infant, was later undermined by rumors of his affair with an army general, and the Middle Kingdom, a golden age of literature and jewelry in which the benefits of the afterlife became available for all, not just royalty - a concept later underlying Christianity. Wilkinson then explores the legendary era of the New Kingdom, a lost world of breathtaking opulence founded by Ahmose, whose parents were siblings, and who married his sister and transformed worship of his family into a national cult. Other leaders include Akhenaten, the "heretic king," who with his wife Nefertiti brought about a revolution with a bold new religion; his son Tutankhamun, whose dazzling tomb would remain hidden for three millennia; and eleven pharaohs called Ramesses, the last of whom presided over the militarism, lawlessness, and corruption that caused a crucial political and societal decline.

Riveting and revelatory, filled with new information and unique interpretations, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt will become the standard source about this great civilization, one that lasted - so far - longer than any other.

CHAPTER 1

IN THE BEGINNING

The first king of Egypt

In a tall glass case in the entrance hall of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo stands an ancient slab of fine-grained greenish-black stone, about two feet high and no more than an inch thick. Shaped like a shield, it is carved on both sides in low relief. The scenes, though still crisp, are difficult to make out in the diffuse, hazy light that filters down through the dusty glazed dome in the museum ceiling. Most visitors barely give this strange object a second glance as they head straight for the golden riches of Tutankhamun on the floor above. Yet this modest piece of stone is one of the most important documents to survive from ancient Egypt. Its place of honor at the entrance to the Egyptian Museum, the world's greatest treasure- house of pharaonic culture, underlines its significance. This stone is the object that marks the very beginning of ancient Egyptian history.

The Narmer Palette, as it is known to Egyptologists, has become ...

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Reviews

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If you can accept the thesis that the history of ancient Egypt is the history of a small, narrowly concentrated group of elites brutally exercising their power over a whipped, starved, and constantly downtrodden populace, and can also accept Wilkinson's occasional overstatement of it, then you will find The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egyptian not only a satisfying and comprehensive survey on ancient Egypt but also a narrative tour de force dramatically following the deeds and misdeeds of thirty centuries of Pharaohs, priests, architects, generals, barbarians, peasants, and rebels. General audiences should have no problem being engrossed by this book, though the reader should keep in mind what to expect from historical writing.   (Reviewed by Kevin Bartolotta).

Full Review Members Only (983 words).

Media Reviews
The Observer (UK)

I had always presumed, before I read Wilkinson’s book, that it was impossible to write a history of Egypt which combined scholarship, accessibility, and a genuine sense of revelation. I was wrong.

The Scotsman (UK)

Not just the pyramids but the politics; not just war and religion but livestock and labour relations: the whole astonishing story meticulously researched and enthrallingly told.

The Times (UK)

Egypt has for the past four thousand years been much vaunted, much debated ... Toby Wilkinson's The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt [adds] impressively to this tradition.

Oxford Times (UK)

Take this great book with you on your next boat to Egypt.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. An essential work of Egyptian scholarship with lessons for our time.

Library Journal

Starred Review... this book will serve as a standard for general readers and college students alike who seek to be immersed in the 3000-year pageant of Egyptian civilization. Highly recommended for Egyptophiles and all public and academic libraries.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] penetrating and authoritative overview of a violent ancient civilization often revered by contemporary scholars and enthusiasts.

Booklist

This superbly written survey is ideal for general readers and likely to engender controversy among specialists.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Absolutely divine ... a thorough, erudite and enthusiastic gallop through an astonishing three thousand years.

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A Quick Guide to Egyptian Dynasties

One of the most difficult things to keep straight about ancient Egypt is its dynastic chronologies, thirty-three families of rulers over thousands of years, full of contradictions, inaccuracies, and outright lies. To offer some assistance I have included an incomplete list of the important dynasties, with a few details about each period; relevant Pharaohs, important events and so forth, from Wilkinson's timeline.

First Dynasty. c.2950-c.2750 BCE
The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Pyramid Third Dynasty, c.2650-c.2575 BCE
Notable for the construction of the Step Pyramid of Djoser, one of the first pyramids.

Fourth Dynasty, c.2575-c.2450 BCE
The apex of the pyramid age; construction of the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx.

...

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