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BOOK REVIEW - A History of Ancient Egypt - Nicolas Grimal

Updated: Jun 19, 2021


This is an account of the rise and fall of the civilization in the Nile Valley, covering the first human settlement (c. 120,000 BC) to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 333 BC. It is the first reign-by-reign history of ancient Egypt to be published since Sir Alan Gardiner's Egypt of the Pharaohs (1961) and takes full account of the many archaeological, scientific and linguistic discoveries of the last three decades. The author blends archaeological and textual evidence into a lucid and vivid narrative and, by quoting extensively from contemporary sources, such as the funerary autobiographies of individuals and the official accounts of military campaigns, adds a strong sense of atmosphere to the unfolding of events.

Nicolas Grimal recounts the political, cultural and economic history of the Egyptians within the framework of an intricate and well-argued chronology. At a time when the vast accumulation of information from ancient Egypt is becoming almost too diverse for a single mind to encompass, he has managed to transform - without disguising current gaps in knowledge - disparate sources of evidence and the findings of many different disciplines into a coherent historical sequence. This is in itself a considerable achievement: it has also provided the means of presenting one of the most scholarly and at the same time most readable histories ever written of a civilization whose mysteries and achievements have fascinated the West for well over two millennia.

Unlike most books on Ancient Egypt, this work is arranged thematically, not chronologically. What makes this publication a classic in the fields of Egyptology is its focus on Egyptian life from childbirth to death. It includes such areas as education, diet, the status of women, medicine, and the building of the pyramids and temples.

It should be stressed, however, that this work is a college textbook, uses a different naming convention for the pharaohs, and only contains a handful of illustrations. Although somewhat complicated for the lay reader, this book is not tedious, even in matters of scholarly argument. Its study on Egyptian life makes this a valuable book for anyone's collection.


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