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Egyptomania: Author Bob Brier Recommends His Top Ten Books on Ancient Egypt

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Egyptomania: Author Bob Brier Recommends His Top Ten Books on Ancient Egypt

My new book, EGYPTOMANIA, is all about why we are so fascinated with ancient Egypt. Kids want to see the mummies in the Egyptian sections of museums, not the Greek pots. New agers who think they are reincarnated were always ancient Egyptians in their previous lives, never Vikings or Maya. What is it about Egypt? (Hint: It has to do with the desire for immortality.)

Egyptomania has always been with us. Even the ancient Greeks were fascinated with their much older Mediterranean neighbors. In the book, I describe half a dozen events that fanned the flames of Egyptomania.  Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign started the ball rolling, but the Opening of the Suez Canal, an obelisk being transported to New York, and the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb have everyone wild for anything Egyptian. I try to show --- in vivid color --- all the goodies that were created after these events. After the discovery of King Tut, flappers danced to "Old King Tut was a Wise Old Nut," and fashionable ladies wore mechanical pencils in the shape of a mummy around their necks. Pull on the silver mummy’s head and the lead pops out his feet! The Egypto-goodies are endless, and most of it is wonderful.

When I was asked to name my 10 favorite books on ancient Egypt, I decided to go for fun reads rather than authoritative scholarship. So here are my top 10: five fiction, five nonfiction.

DEATH COMES AS THE END by Agatha Christie: DEATH ON THE NILE might be the more obvious choice, but DEATH COMES AS THE END is far better and based on papyri in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

THE SCARAB MURDER CASE: A Philo Vance Detective Story by S.S. Van Dine: This 1930s novel was done in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is accurate right down to the last hieroglyph.

THE EYE OF OSIRIS by R. Austin Freeman: The first book to ever suggest x-raying a mummy (1911) leads Egyptologists at the British Museum to discover that their wrapped mummy is actually a modern murder victim. The description of what early x-raying was like is amazing. Think of Frankenstein being brought to life, and you’ll have a pretty good

THE EGYPTIAN by Mika Waltari: A bestseller of the 1940s, this may be the best Egyptian novel ever written. Based on an ancient Egyptian tale, it was made into a very good film with an all-star cast.

THE LAST CAMEL DIED AT NOON: An Amelia Peabody Mystery by Elizabeth Peters: Perhaps the best of Elizabeth Peters's Amelia Peabody series, this is an homage to H. Rider Haggard’s SHE and the Lost World genre.

THE TOMB OF TUTANKHAMEN by Howard Carter: It is a story well told that the world is always happy to hear again. The discovery of the boy-king’s tomb and treasures is one the world never tires of hearing. It is especially well told because a novelist friend of Carter’s wrote it!

TEMPLES TOMBS AND HIEROGLYPHS: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt by Barbara Mertz: This is the first popular book on Egyptology to become a bestseller. Mertz was a Ph. D. in Egyptology who knows how to tell a story. She later wrote a dozen other bestsellers under the name of Elizabeth Peters. A wonderful way to get your ancient Egyptian history.

DESCRIPTION DE L’EGYPTE by Taschen: The publisher Taschen reprinted all the wonderful archaeological engravings that Napoleon’s artists did during the Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801. You can spend hours flipping through, looking at what the temples and tombs looked like 200 years ago. Fabulous art!

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF AKHNATON by Arthur Weigall: Weigall may be the best of all the archaeological writers. He once said, “It should be the goal of writers on archaeology to make the dead come alive, not to put the living to sleep.” His biography of Akhenaton, the first monotheist in history, reads like a novel.

SECRETS FROM THE SAND: My Search for Egypt's Past by Zahi Hawss: This is the big surprise for a top 10 list. Everyone sees Hawass on TV and sees only the big hat and a bigger ego. This is his amazing autobiography where you see a real person. He even has more pictures of his students than of himself.

    --- Written by Bob Brier, author of EGYPTOMANIA: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs, now in stores