|"The Egyptians" by Michael Hayes<br>Reviewed by Hmt. Rev. Tamara Siuda (AUS)
by Michael Hayes
Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., 1998
160 pages, $19.95
(Note: The following review has been excerpted in the November-December
1999 issue of "Scientific
American Discovering Archaeology" magazine.)
Good things can come in small packages. Lush photographs and full color
make this short book worth the money. While Hayes suggests this
introduction to ancient Egypt is also for adults, its simplistic tone is
better suited to children -- as a first introduction, especially for an
intermediate young reader, The Egyptians is a wonderful place to start.
Hayes is so cognizant of his young audience that some sexually oriented
material is censored. For example, the myth of Heru
and Set notes Heru's
loss of an eye, but not Set's loss of a testicle, and the hermaphroditic
god Hapi is referenced
as "a well-fed blue man." Strangely, other points of
the text do not seem embarrassed by such material.
An additional inconsistency is the jacket and introduction's continual
assertion that The Egyptians is specifically about New Kingdom Egypt.
Except for details on certain pharaohs, Hayes makes reference to the entire
expanse of Egyptian history. This is disappointing in two ways -- it creates
a book which is neither entirely general nor entirely specific.
The Egyptians covers various topics such as daily life, the temple of Amun
at Karnak, and the life and times of Thutmose III. The book also focuses an
entire chapter on Hatshepsut, combining artful photography with history of
the woman who would be king. Surprisingly, however, Tyldesley's signature
work on Hatshepsut is neither quoted nor listed in the bibliography. This
is unfortunate (as is Hayes' decision to start the chapter by painting
Hatshepsut as a poor gentle victim of a stepson's postmortem hatred, a
stereotype more or less abandoned by today's scholars). Other than its
start, the Hatshepsut chapter is well-balanced, presenting several theories
concerning Hatshepsut's motives and the denouement of her reign.
A chapter on the enigmatic Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten depicts him as "a king in
a hurry" -- a perfect title for Hayes' exposition of the alternately
fascinating and maddening Heretic. The chapter forms a fair yet brief
introduction to the Amarna Period and captioned photographs enhance the
story as it unfolds.
Hayes also discusses the understanding of death in ancient Egypt, using
imagery to explain concepts which seem strange to a modern audience.
However, imagery is occasionally mired in author bias. For example, the
suggestion that Egyptian underworld books provide "an early glimpse into...the
dark psychological side of Egyptian imperialism" is out of character
with an otherwise positive presentation, as is an earlier note that Egyptian
temples and pyramids were built through the "miseries unwitnessed" of slave
The recommended reading and glossary are superb. Unfortunately, however,
the provided chronology can be misleading, since it only mentions rulers
discussed in the book. For example, Khafre (Chephren), Unas, and Montuhotep
I are listed in order, without a clear explanation of the hundreds of years
and number of unaccounted rulers between each.
Even with its disappointments, I would recommend The Egyptians as a gift or
first book for young people interested in ancient Egypt.
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