Like a lot of people, ancient Egypt has always had a fascination for me, and being a history buff, I’ve picked up a decent amount of knowledge on the subject over the years. But, I’ve never had any one great source for what is quite a lot of history, and Toby Wilkinson’s book serves the purpose very well.

One advantage of it is that instead of just being Dynastic Egypt, the text runs all the way from what we know of pre-sedentary societies in the area (all-new to me), to the death of Cleopatra, and the end of Egypt as any sort of independent entity until modern times. Coverage naturally varies depending on how much is known, with the usual suspects of the early I Dynasty and the XVIII Dynasty getting a lot of attention. Normally, I don’t see much about the period between the XIX Dynasty and the Ptolemaic period, so the expanded scope was appreciated.

The book is clear, concise, and well-written, and as an introductory overview stays well away from any sort of controversies, or discussion of trends of thought in Egyptology, even when those bear directly on text. The greatest example of this was having to look up Ptolemy VII separately to find out that he may not have reigned/existed at all, and if he did it was a very short while (say a month); but the book talks about Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII in the same paragraph, and doesn’t think to note the reason why there’s a missing number. There is a stated attempt to point out forms of repression and absolutism inherent in the governmental system, but it’s not all that well explored, and (since its what we have records of) the book tends to gloss over parts of that anyway in its narration of the doings of high officials and armies.

In addition to the standard bibliography, there’s a fairly extensive collection of color photographs (a number of black-and-white ones are scattered throughout) at the end of the (Kindle) book. They aren’t bad on a smaller screen, and are big enough to view comfortably on my desktop monitor. There’s also a lot of notes for further reading on specific subjects; unfortunately, at least in the Kindle version the names of books are not italicized, making them harder to pick out of the text, and the sources of articles mentioned are not given. What actually makes me unhappy, is that the reading is almost all for particular subjects, instead of anything that just breaks down to the next level of overview, i.e., suggestions for the Old Kingdom as a whole.

There’s some talk about the various trade routes around the Nile, which help explain the importance of certain areas, and at least mention of the fact that the Nile Delta was more important that it seems, simply because it’s much harder to do archaeology there. But, while lacking a means of easy access to the next level of detail, there is plenty here, and it is overall a well-put together look at around 3000 years of history.