- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Smithsonian; Stated 1st Edition edition (October 14, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006165552X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061655524
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 45 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Secret of the Great Pyramid: How One Man's Obsession Led to the Solution of Ancient Egypt's Greatest Mystery Hardcover – October 14, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Since its construction 4,500 years ago for Pharaoh Khufu, the Great Pyramid of Giza has remained an engineering mystery. According to Egyptologist Brier (The Murder of Tutankhamen) and architect Houdin, the monument was designed by Khufu's brother Hemienu, an architectural genius, and built in two decades by 25,000 paid Egyptian construction workers. Having studied the structure minutely and using computer graphics to visualize every aspect of the pyramid and its construction, Houdin offers a radical proposal of how the huge limestone and granite blocks were raised: the pyramid was built from the inside out around a mile-long ramp corkscrewed up to the top, which remains in the pyramid's walls. The authors' prose is lucid, aided by drawings and photos, and the theories are intriguing but inconclusive until permission can be obtained from Egyptian authorities to thermally photograph the pyramid and determine its internal structure. The highly technical nature of some of the architectural and engineering material makes this book more suitable for experts in archeology and architecture than for buffs. (Oct.)
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A specialist on Egyptian mummies, Brier relates that he receives many a missive purporting to have solved the mystery of the Great Pyramid’s construction. In one day’s e-mail, a plausible idea caught his fancy. Unlike theories that aliens lent Egyptians a helping hand, this message dwelt on the central engineering problem concerning the type of ramp the tomb’s architect used. Brier’s communication came from coauthor Houdin, a French architect who devoted years to studying the problem. Rather than immediately bowl readers over with Houdin’s proposal, Brier cleverly entices them by alternating Houdin’s quest with the trial-and-error development of pharaonic pyramids. Photos and computer-generated graphics illustrate the authors’ explanation of designs and building processes, in the course of which they describe defects in the theories that the ramp was a mile-long straightaway or an external corkscrew. Houdin adopted an inspiration of his father’s, that the ramp was indeed a corkscrew, but one that rested inside the pyramid. His search for supporting evidence, culminating in a public presentation of his theory in 2007, fills out a book to fascinate pyramid fans. --Gilbert Taylor
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The book does not cover all the aspects of the grand gallery counterweight idea. How did the Egyptians get the counterweights back up? What is the advantage of the counterweights if you have to pull them back up again after dropping them? If they drop the weights the length of the grand gallery and pull a stone up an external ramp that same length then what is the gain? The weights have to be pulled back up a 50 degree slope in the grand gallery while the big stone is moving up a much smaller slope on the outside ramp. Why not just pull the stone up the outside ramp? Unless there is a mechanical advantage in use for pulling the weights back up the grand gallery ramp (which could not be used on the other larger stone for some reason) I see no gain in constructing a counterweight mechanism in the grand gallery. Even if some gain could be had by constructing a grand gallery counterweight, would it be worth the effort that would have to be expended building the grand gallery mechanism?
The grand gallery may make sense if a large A frame was put inside it and moved backward each time the stone was pulled up through leverage. In other words, the bottom of the A frame would be placed onto the benches of the grand gallery. A rope would be put over the top of the A frame and around the large stone sitting on the external ramp. The A frame would sit forward in the grand gallery and be wedged at the bottom. Then the rope pullers would pull the A frame back and pull the stone up the ramp. Then the A frame would be repositioned inside the grand gallery and wedged at the bottom again and the pullers would once more pull the stone up by using the leverage on the A frame. Please don't get me wrong, I am not an engineer and I am sure this was not the way it was done. My point is at least there would be a mechanical advantage to using a grand galley mechanism that might offset the trouble it would take to build it. Mr. Houdin's idea does not seem to give that advantage.
Unfortunately, the entire internal ramp and grand gallery theory could have been covered, and was covered, in about 30 to 40 pages. The rest of the book is filler. So we hear about how hard it is to produce a IMAX program, how a pyramid boat was reconstructed, Mr. Houdin's parents in the Ivory Coast etc. Very uninteresting, at least to me.
Also, the book includes a lot of speculation that is not identified as speculation. How the architect Hemienu thought about the design process cannot be known (for example) p. 60 et al.
I did like the miscellaneous stories telling us how the Egyptian experts reached certain conclusions about when and who constructed certain pyramids or identified other monuments or events. For example, graffiti from 1000 years after the construction of a pyramid is taken as proof for when the pyramid was built and by whom. Even if the graffiti is genuine, how can we be sure the wall writer knew who constructed the monument? Many books were written right after WWII that were not accurate on many important facts. What happened on the eastern front was totally distorted, for example. If we missed the mark on an event which was less than 20 years old at the time the books were written, how far off can a person be 1000 years after an event?
I really like Mr. Houdin's theories, but much more time should have been spent on the theories, the challenges to them, and the answers to those challenges.
The book provides more information than just the narrow topic suggests, however. It is an overview of pyramid construction in general and some of the approaches used in figuring out how they were built. Historical information is provided in many chapters to provide the reader a framework for the time of the pyramids, and the book switches between the present (the actual 'solving' of the great pyramids construction) and the past (describing times as they would have been in ancient Egypt).
It is a quick read and essentially an introduction. I wouldn't recommend it for detailed scholarship - I'm sure there are more suitable journal articles on the topic. But it is fun and exciting to imagine, and made me hope some more Egyptology books would make it to my reading list.