The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt - Toby A.H. Wilkinson By its nature The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt skips over a lot of history but as an introduction to the five-millennia-long history of Egypt - up to the Roman conquest in 31 BC - Toby Wilkinson's effort excels. If you want to know the details of a particular era, the book's near-80 pages of notes and bibliography provide a rich vein to mine.

While I am familiar with the general outline of Egyptian history, every section had something new to say to me that enriched my understanding or revealed some aspect I hadn't considered or known. A few of the many examples I could list include the political unification of the Nile Valley c. 3000 BC. It began with the rise of three power centers (Tjeni, Nubt and Nekhen) and ended when Tjeni's ruler (the man we know as Narmer or Menes) conquered his rivals to inaugurate the First Dynasty. From its birth, Egypt displayed many of the stereotypical images moderns associate with it, including the absolute despotism of the pharaohs. Or there's Hatshepsut, the famous female pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. Her rule is justly famous but she was only one in a line of powerful women who played significant roles in the government. Then there is Wilkinson's focus on the Heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten's dictatorship and fanatical monotheism, rather than on the usual emphasis on his possible role in Jewish history. (And, returning to remarkable females, it's possible that Nefertiti reigned as pharaoh for several years after his death.) Another interesting period comprised the reigns of the 25th Dynasty's pharaohs, Kushites who conquered Egypt - ironically - in a religiously motivated campaign to restore the proper worship of Amun. And as a final example, it's instructive to see the Persian and Macedonian conquests through Egyptian eyes: Wedjahorresnet, an offical who collaborated with the Persian regime and convinced Cambyses to adopt pharaonic regalia, and Sematawytefnakht, who witnessed Alexander's victory over Darius.

This is a very readable and interesting synopsis of a land and people that deserve to be better known, and comes highly recommended.