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How the Great Pyramid Was Built Paperback – May 2, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0060891589 ISBN-10: 0060891580 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060891580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060891589
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #985,786 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Many questions regarding the Great Pyramid of Giza remain unanswered: How was a structure approximately two-thirds the size of Hoover Dam built by the ancients? How were 2.3 million blocks of limestone and granite weighing several metric tons each lifted into place? How did the ancient Egyptians manage to build such a structure with the tools and human resources at their disposal? In this rather dull book, construction engineer Smith imagines the building of the pyramid as if it were a modern construction project. He lays out the building plans (speculating based on evidence that the Egyptians had plans, scale drawings and models) and the work schedules that Pharaoh Khufu—whose burial tomb the pyramid was—would have needed. Smith examines the evolution of pyramid design to demonstrate that the builders of the Great Pyramid learned to avoid the flaws of earlier models such as the step pyramid. But like others, Smith can only take an educated guess as to how the massive stones were lifted hundreds of meters into place—with ramps. Smith's book is anachronistic in imposing modern standards and methods on an ancient building project, and the history of the Egyptian religion and culture he offers is already well known and better related elsewhere. 32 color, 50 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

Although how the Egyptian pyramids were constructed is unknown, there are technological and physical constraints that allow engineers to imagine how it was done (without invoking helpful aliens). First, throw out the wheel and the pulley, for the ancient Egyptians lacked these tools; second, estimate the labor force required; and third, establish a schedule that ensures the pyramid will be ready to receive the pharaonic mummy. Within these parameters, Smith, a public works engineer by profession, produces a fascinating scenario for the erection circa 2550 B.C.E. of the Great Pyramid of Khufu. Smith assumes that a project manager directed affairs; he reasonably speculates that this was Khufu's vizier, Hemiunu. Smith converts material descriptions and mathematical calculations into an almost audible narrative, so that readers hear Hemiunu think aloud as he reflects on the defects of previous pyramids and plans out a monument to impress the gods and astound posterity. This impressive, accessible analysis is an absolute necessity for the basic Egyptology collection. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author



Craig B. Smith's forty-year career combined engineering design and construction of major projects involving advanced technologies with a love for writing. His career began as an Assistant Professor of Engineering at UCLA. After leaving UCLA, he formed a high technology R & D company (ANCO Engineers, Inc.) that developed advanced instrumentation and data acquisition systems and some of the world's largest structural vibrators for seismic tests of high-rise buildings, dams, and nuclear power plants. In 1992 he joined AECOM, a large, international architecture/engineering firm, where he held several positions before retiring in 2003 as President and then chairman of AECOM subsidiary DMJM-Holmes and Narver, where he was responsible for the direction and management of many large public works projects such as airport expansion, mass transit, schools and courthouses, and took part in a joint venture responsible for the Pentagon renovation, before and after 9/11.

During his professional career, Smith wrote over 100 technical publications but also published poetry and short fiction. He wrote a textbook, "Energy Management Principles" (Pergamon Press, 1980), in addition to serving as editor of several books on energy conservation and efficiency. In 2003, he began writing full-time and published "How the Great Pyramid was Built" (Smithsonian Institution Press, 2004). A paperback edition was published in 2006 by HarperCollins and a Spanish language version, "Guiza: Cómo Se Construyó La Gran Pirámide," was published Editoria Crítica, Barcelona, Spain, in 2007.

In connection with this work Smith was featured on the Arts and Entertainment Channel's "Great Builders of Egypt" and in PBS's three hour series "Secrets of the Pharaohs." In 2006, he appeared in the History Channel's "Egypt: Engineering an Empire and in the National Geographic Magazine's "Naked Science series: Pyramids."

A sailor, Smith has always been interested in the sea and "Extreme Waves" was published by the Joseph Henry Press of the National Academy of Sciences in 2006, followed by "Lightning: Fire from the Sky" in 2008. His latest non-fiction book, "Counting the Days," will be published by Smithsonian Institution Press in May, 2012. It tells the amazing survival stories of six POWs from both sides of the Pacific conflict in WW II. In addition, he has published three novels, "House of Miracles," 2010, "Stirrings," 2011, and "Malaika's Miracle," 2012.

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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See all 10 customer reviews
The book presents very interesting material, and carefully justified speculations.
The Undecider
I haven't finished reading this book yet, but so far I like the history background, the engineering details, and the great illustrations and pictures.
George Walter
Dr. Zahi Hawass, the director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, provides the foreword.
Mark F. Jenkins

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mark F. Jenkins on July 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The reader will have one question in mind after finishing "How the Great Pyramid Was Built": is this a book about Ancient Egypt, utilizing the tools of project management? Or a book about project management, using the Great Pyramid as an extended example? However, the answer is probably moot. Both project managers and Egyptophiles will gain excellent insights from reading Craig Smith's book. Dr. Zahi Hawass, the director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, provides the foreword. The analysis of the necessary infrastructure and the organization of the workforce is throrough and engrossing.

This book is not for the alternative theorist, but rather for the historically- and archaeologically-minded reader. One minor quibble: Smith appears to assume that the Egyptians knew that a triangle with sides of unit length 3, 4, and 5 would form a right triangle, whereas Richard Gillings (Mathematics in the Time of the Pharaohs) firmly rejects this notion. Still, they would seem to have had some sort of square or carpenter's ell. The first chapter, a general historical survey of ancient Egypt, does not add anything new, but is a good reminder for the casual reader and serves to anchor the building of the Great Pyramid in its historical era. All in all, a fascinating analysis that belongs on the shelves of both project managers and those interested in Egypt's most famous monument.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John B. Molloy on October 21, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This is a great book! It is well written, covers a fascinating subject in an interesting manner, and is clear enough for non-engineers and scientists to enjoy.

Using modern engineering systems and concepts, Mr. Smith explores,in depth,the many issues involved in building the Great Pyramid at Giza. He covers the design, the materials and their transport, the actual construction, and the labor. As an added bonus, the author provides substantial information about ancient Egyptian life and death and explains how their culture affected the design and construction of the Great Pyramid.

Throughout the book, Mr. Smith lays out the known facts (with attributions), the conclusions he draws from those facts, and, most importantly, the reasoning that leads him to his conclusions.

For anyone who has ever wondered how an ancient society, lacking most modern tools and knowledge, was able to build a structure on this grand scale and have it last for 4,000 years, this is the book for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Undecider on April 1, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very interesting and thoughtful book. In large
part, it is engaging and well written, and the author has
done a lot of background research, analysis, and careful
thinking. The book presents very interesting material, and
carefully justified speculations.

In the end, I find the ramp scenario implausible, at least
as the major method of lifting most of the stones. There are
several reasons for my skepticism, but one is this: the
author's ramp scenario involves, for example (cf. p. 182) at
course 9, 34 teams side by side, 12 teams in sequence, and
42 laborers per team, for a total of 34x12x42=17,136 men on
the ramp at one time ... this sounds rather impractical.

Unless I've misunderstood, there is also an important
technical error in the analysis: On p. 211 it is mentioned
parenthetically that the author assumed friction increased the
required force by 50%, and a footnote explains that
this arises from assuming a friction coefficient 0.5. But
this friction coefficient would mean that the friction force
is half the normal force, which for the assumed slope of 1:6
is close to the weight of the block. So the friction force
is about half the weight, whereas the tangential component
of the gravitational force is around 1/6 the weight.
That is, rather than 50 percent more work, friction adds
300 percent more work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Craig Smith is a construction management professional whose visits to see the Great Pyramid piqued his interest in how a massive project like this was built.

Using modern CM tools, he has convinved me, also a construction person, that this pyramid was built using the best construction methods and, having the superior contractors, engineers, and architects that Egypt had 4600 years ago, the pyramid was completed in just 8 years. Some of the highlights of the book are: the workers were not slaves, all the materials furnished were "just in time," and a Necropolis more enormous than the pyramid was built next to it, and hardly a trace remains.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By George Walter on September 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I haven't finished reading this book yet, but so far I like the history background, the engineering details, and the great illustrations and pictures.
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