Pharaohs of the Sun: The Rise and Fall of Tutankhamen’s Dynasty

Pegasus. Jan. 2023. 576p. ISBN 9781639363063. $35. HIST
Known for books and telecasts on ancient Rome, de la Bédoyère (Gladius: The World of the Roman Soldier) lays out the elusive history of Egypt’s 18th dynasty (1550–1295 BCE). Some names are familiar. Queen Hatshepsut (ca. 1479–1458 BCE) ruled as co-regent, then as pharaoh on her own for 15 years. Successor Thutmose III, the most militarily successful king in Egyptian history, tried to erase her name from the record. Akhenaten and Nefertiti (ca. 1352–1341 BCE) instituted the monotheistic worship of Aten, the sun god, which was abandoned after their deaths. Tutankhamun (ca. 1336–1327 BCE), aside from leaving a tomb that wasn’t pillaged to unearth, was a wholly undistinguished ruler. For most of this time, Egypt was the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the region; its ruler was obeyed as a living god. Wealth ended at the top. Only Horemheb (ca. 1323–1295 BCE) ever exhibited the least concern for his subjects. The book starts with a superb chapter on the difficulties interpreting such a history: much is missing; what remains is maddingly ambiguous. The result is guessed-at history, estimates of probability or likeliness instead of conclusions. The illustrations—black and white, plus stunning color sections—are superb.
VERDICT Valuable for history bugs, but sometimes a slog.
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