Category Archives: Books

“By Way of Accident: The True Stories Behind the Discovery of Egypt’s Greatest Monuments”

Ahmed Abul Ella

This is a good, though somewhat amateurish, book about Egyptian archaeological discoveries. I appreciated how the author — an Egyptian tour guide — told the story of how Egyptians came to “own” their own past and how, over time, more and more Egyptian archaeology has come to be conducted by Egyptians.

“Tutankhamen: The Search For An Egyptian King”

Joyce Tyldesley

After seeing King Tut’s tomb and its contents on my recent trip to Egypt I wanted to know more about him. This book proved to be a perfect match for what I wanted. It covers what we know about Tut’s life, the discovery of the tomb, and his significance in history and to archaeology. What I really appreciated was the author’s refusal to make definitive statements about things about which we don’t have much solid information. There are too many books and documentaries about the “secrets” and “mysteries” of history that are full of sensationalist speculations. There are too few books like this one that explain what is known while also explaining how we know it and how much we don’t know.

“Egypt: A Short History”

Robert Tignor

Last month my wife and I went on a Road Scholar tour of Egypt (“Beyond the Pharaohs: Egypt Past and Present“). This book was on Road Scholar’s suggested reading list.

The parts of the book on ancient Egypt are invaluable as a survey of ancient Egyptian history. I wouldn’t call it “superficial”, but it is definitely an overview. The parts about the time between the arrival of Islam and the fall of the Ottoman Empire are less interesting and it tends to get bogged down in the various ruling dynasties. The pace — and my interest — picked up when Tignor reaches modern Egypt.

Overall the book is a little dry but it really helped me to understand what I saw on the trip.

As for the trip itself, it was pretty incredible. Egypt is a fascinating place full of (to borrow the phrase Howard Carter used to describe his first view of the wonders of King Tut’s tomb) “wonderful things”. An organized tour seems like the only practical way to visit Egypt and even though we decided we’re really not “tour people”, I’d recommend this tour to strongly to anyone interested in visiting Egypt and to anyone who wants to focus their travel experience on learning (as opposed to, for example, on shopping).

“Why Angels Fall: A Journey Through Orthodox Europe from Byzantium to Kosovo”

Victoria Clark

I enjoyed the travel aspects of this book, especially since it’s about a region I have an interest in. Victoria Clark does a good job of talking about the political aspects of “Orthodox Europe”, but her writing about the religious aspects isn’t as on-target. It’s as if she wants the spirituality of the Orthodox world to be something it isn’t, while not quite getting in touch with what it is. She also focuses on priests and monks while ignoring all but the externals of laypersons’ faith.

“The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin”

Steven Lee Myers

Considering recent events, this is a must-read. Despite the depth of the reporting and overall quality of the book, Putin is still an enigma to me. He wasn’t obviously ambitious, and, since taking power, it’s not clear how pure (i.e., how purely nationalistic as opposed to self-interested) his motives are. It’s clear that even if Putin is, in some sense, a patriot, he’s also in charge of a criminal organization. Given the layers of security surrounding the topic, it’s hard to imagine a more complete book on Putin; it’s also a good survey of post-Soviet Russian history.

“The Refusal of Work: Rethinking Post-Work Theory and Practice”

David Frayne

Sometimes it’s a good idea to examine that things we take for granted. For instance, is “work” in the modern, economic sense, the only (or most sensible) foundation for our lives? Frayne looks at how work has changed over the last couple of centuries, the disproportionate role is has in our lives, and possible alternatives.

In a world where automation continues to take jobs from workers, a book about “post-work” is increasingly relevant.