John Romer’s A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid is the first of a multi-volume history of ancient Egypt. As the subtitle indicates, it starts off in prehistory, and ends with Khufu.

Which means, ultimately, that it’s a history of a period we don’t know very much about, a point that Romer drives home repeatedly. He’ll talk about the archaeological evidence that we have—a comb with some engravings, maybe—and review what interpretations past historians have put on it, then calmly explain that they were all full of shit, and that, like Jon Snow, we know nothing.

This bit from near the end gets a lot of the flavor of the book:

And yet our real knowledge of these ancient people hardly extends beyond their pyramids, their tomb chapels and names and titularies. We know nothing, for example, of those who carried Hetep-heres in her palanquin, and though we possess her very intestines, we know nothing of the woman or the queen at all. As we have seen, it is convention, rather than hard proof, that describes her as the daughter of King Huni, the wife of Sneferu and the mother of King Khufu. And it is precisely this mix of intimacy, anonymity and grandeur, at once alien and familiar, which is so very fascinating.

So, yeah, if you want to read a long overview of the development of pottery and building trades in ancient Egypt (about the only things we have real evidence for), and an overview of the very little that we know about the first three and a half dynasties, and about life in Egypt during them, this is a great book for the purpose. But for my own part, reading for fun, I can’t help but prefer to read about a period when we have more evidence available to us, and when a history can be more about the people and less about the buildings and vases they left behind.


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