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Lives of the Ancient Egyptians: Pharaohs, Queens, Courtiers and Commoners Hardcover – November 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sifting through 3000 years of Egyptian history, Wilkinson (Genesis of the Pharaohs) presents detailed portraits of 100 ancient Egyptians, mostly men who comprised the civilization's small, literate ruling class and left their imprint on everything from tombs to papyrus. Rulers range from the iron-fisted leader Narmer, depicted in temple decorations beating a bound captive in 3000 BC, to the powerful and popular female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, who reigned in the 18th Dynasty. Wilkinson gives equal attention to everyday citizens, such as Naunakht, who, during the late Ramesside Period, cut her two ungrateful daughters from her will; Mes, a treasury scribe during Ramesses II's reign, emerged victorious in a century-long family feud and the details of his court case are inscribed for perpetuity on his tomb's walls. Lavishly illustrated with 200 photos, 80 of them in color, this volume beautifully gives a voice to long-dead souls, both regal and more ordinary, whose ambitions, loves and disappointments resemble ours in significant ways.
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About the Author

Toby Wilkinson is a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. His other publications include The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; First Edition edition (November 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500051488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500051481
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on February 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Toby Wilkinson's "Lives of the Ancient Egyptians" is published by Thames & Hudson. That in itself, as lovers of books on art and archaeology will attest, means superb physical quality with thick, glossy pages, and crisp printing, and well-reproduced illustrations. But the illustrations here illuminate rather than overwhelm Wilkinson's text.

The author states that he set out, through the presentation of short biographies, to tell the story of three thousand years of Ancient Egyptian history, cutting across chronological, geographical, and social boundaries. And he has largely succeeded. As Wilkinson himself states in his foreword, the limits of available evidence of course did constrain him from achieving a uniformity of coverage. A full tenth of the included biographies deal with the last half of the 14th century BCE, the time of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and their successors (a fascinating period, to be sure, and deserving of this closer focus). The majority of the biographies are those of kings and queens, but a good number of relatively low-level commoners are included as well, evidence permitting.

All in all, "The Lives of the Ancient Egyptians" is a vivid presentation of a wonderful stretch of history, from Narmer, the first pharaoh of the First Dynasty to Cleopatra VII and the fall of Egypt under Roman domination, looking at day-to-day life as well as great events. The organization of the book, mostly biographies a few pages long, makes it ideal for browsing, dipping in for a quick read and then coming back to it days or weeks later (which is not to say that it cannot or should not be read as a continuous kaleidoscope of Ancient Egyptian history). This volume immediately won a permanent spot on my over-crowded bookshelves.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By D. R. Camp on February 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I've been to Egypt twice and have read many books... this book is one of my favorites! I love to hear the stories of everyday people and what their lives were like. The author gives a highly readable account of those lives.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Lester A. Picker on December 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is the 3rd or 4th book I own of Toby Wilkinson's. His clear prose and prodigious scholarship never fail to make his books enjoyable and full of the detail I need as an author of the First Dynasty Series (The First Pharaoh, The Dagger of Isis and the upcoming Qa'a). His works are the most readable I use in my research.

Lester Picker
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Diana Wilder on August 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover
A writer of novels set in the early days of dynastic Egypt mentioned this book, and I decided to take a look at it. I ultimately ordered a copy, and read it after a family member hijacked it and read it.

I like to be able to visualize things, to get inside the heads of those I write about. I have done a lot of research, but the premise of this - a survey of various people in different walks of life throughout Egyptian history. It is profusely illustrated with good-quality photographs, and Wilkinson's prose is enjoyable.

The book was, of necessity, not an in-depth study. You would need to do a set book on each type of person - a farmer, a vizier, a general, a king - and there was simply not enough room to do so. Some assumptions were made that were unsupported. For example the thought that Khaemwaset, son of Ramesses II and High Priest of Ptah, among other high ranks, culminating in that of Crown Prince in year 55 of Ramesses' long reign, was Ramesses' favorite son. He may have been. That is not a flaw. Mr. Wilkinson interprets information for us, sets out a good, enjoyable narrative, and gives insights that we might not have reached on our own.

Another example is describing one prince who 'Announced the King's Jubilees' as a sort of herald. A herald? Hm, I hadn't thought of that! What a fascinating notion - thank you Mr. Wilkinson!

The book is a delight to read: it is well-written, follows some interesting people, has lots of illustrations, and reflects the musings and interpretations of a truly engaging author. Five stars. It now sits on my shelf in hardcover.
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