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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Uniquely Thorough Explanation Of Egyptian History
For someone with an interest in Egypt, especially if that someone has visited some of the country's staggering ancient monuments, this is a priceless and I believe unique explanation of how such things came to be. We are used, far too used, to histories that view Egypt only in terms of pharaonic successions, a string of wars and conquests, victories and defeats. Those...
Published on 24 April 2012 by Amazon Customer

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmmn
I have a strong layperson's interest in Egyptology, so I was very excited to have the first of two volumes, giving a broad but detailed overview of Egyptian history starting in pre-dynastic times. I think there is room for a couple of modern books with this compact view.

I was rather disappointed with this volume. I find John Romer's writing style overly...
Published 22 months ago by L Weale


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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Uniquely Thorough Explanation Of Egyptian History, 24 April 2012
By 
Amazon Customer (Bedfordshire, England) - See all my reviews
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For someone with an interest in Egypt, especially if that someone has visited some of the country's staggering ancient monuments, this is a priceless and I believe unique explanation of how such things came to be. We are used, far too used, to histories that view Egypt only in terms of pharaonic successions, a string of wars and conquests, victories and defeats. Those writers have seen only the gaudiest splashes of colour on the canvas, and completely neglected the intricately detailed background.

John Romer begins the story around 4000BC, at Lake Faiyum west of modern-day Cairo. From archaeological evidence such as fish and animal bones in the remains of cooking sites, he reconstructs how the lives of those early semi-nomadic people must have been lived, and does so without being dryly academic. Storing grain in woven baskets was a huge step forward that enabled settlement leading to the construction of permanent dwellings, but here I must stop attempting to summarise the book. Romer relates archaeology to the flood cycle of the mighty Nile, and even to factors such as the hibernation of scorpions, as he puts flesh on the bones of previous Egyptian histories. His wealth of detail, all carefully explained, takes us from bronze age settlements to the construction of the great pyramids on the Giza plain, and at every stage we are given the how and the why.

In conclusion, a wonderful book that I will no doubt return to again and again.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very satisfying book., 27 April 2012
By 
Tony Heyes (Greater Manchester UK) - See all my reviews
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I always make a point of watching John Romer's all too infrequent documentaries on television. His erudition is matched only by his lucidity. It is impossible to listen to him without learning something.

Such is the case with his latest book, "A History of Ancient Egypt". In the preface he points out that it is over fifty years since the last comprehensive history of ancient Egypt was published. As was the case with all previous histories, it reiterated largely accepted but too cursorily criticised conventional wisdom and was centred largely on the pharaohs and the priesthood. Moreover, such narratives as were constructed to descry ancient Egypt were filtered by the preconceptions of those writing them. Value-free history was a largely alien concept. History, as we know, is written by the winners. As Romer points out, it is also written by the literate. There were many centuries of Egyptian civilisation before hieroglyphs were invented yet those centuries were, by definition, seminal in the establishment of ancient civilisation and culture. To understand their development therefore, one has to go beyond the written records in an attempt to identify the salient points of the totality of the civilisation.

This he does brilliantly in this volume. Using the findings of archaeology he hypothesises a way of life more in keeping with the evidential remains than previous attempts. It makes for an absorbing read. He is never obscure and writes as engagingly as he speaks. This is a ground-breaking account of pre-literate ancient Egyptian civilisation. I recommend it highly and look forward to the publication of the subsequent volume on ancient Egypt after the invention of writing.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars INFORMATIVE, ENTERTAINING, AND EMINENTLY READABLE, 29 April 2012
By 
Jeff Walmsley "JW" (Wales) - See all my reviews
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AMAZON REVIEW 1

I liked this book, as the five stars indicate. John Romer is what I would describe as a writer of the old school - beautifully constructed prose, with no needless embellishments, eschewing the habits, so frequent amongst modern writers of popular history and science, of references to contemporary "celebrities" (to show how "cool" they are), patches of purple prose, dramatisation of facts and events, with sometimes not a little added fantasy (in the hope of a TV series). He presents the facts punchily, unembroidered, and without needless distractions, but still in an easily readable style. If I said his writing was "scholarly" that would be true, too, but might convey a wrong impression to those who, like me, are not so scholarly...

It's perhaps just as well there's no superfluous prose here; the book already runs to around 500 pages and deals with 2500 years of REALLY ancient history, starting in 5000 BC, and ending with the pyramids; a second volume dealing with post-pyramid history is promised for 2 years' time; I shall look out for it. The sheer volume of archeology practised in this fascinating country, coupled with the preservatory effect of the desert sands, and the development of hi-tec evaluation of traces has revealed much of the minutiae of ancient life that has disappeared elsewhere. One may enjoy reading about the brewing of beer 5,000 years ago, even down to its ingredients, which suggest that whilst low in alcohol, it would have been highly nutritous (when will simulations appear in boutique pubs one wonders ?).

Thirty or so pertinent and welcome illustrations punctuate the book's pages, and a 20 page index hints at the pleasures to be found herein, with entries such as "smiting, macing and bludgeoning", "cosmetics", "weddings and marriages", "cooking herbs", "penis sheaths", and, of course, "beer" (14 references...)

My only complaint is that the bookbinders have the let down the author and publishers; the lower parts of the pages began to detach from the spine as son as I began to read, and continued to do so throughout the entire book. A poor advert for the British printers. Penguin please take note.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ONE OF THOSE RARE FINDS THAT SHOULD NOT BE MISSED, 13 May 2012
By 
Helpless "Helpless" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Fifty pages into the book and a thought struck me; this is a really well written book.

One of my favourite periods in history is Ancient Egypt and this book delivers historical facts and ideas by the bucketful. It takes you on a journey from the known beginning, the development of villages, of people changing from hunter gatherers to farming the land and then on to the development of a great civilisation.

This is a book not just about timelines, specific incidents or periods of the era, but it is also about the people who lived there at the time.

It is written in such a way that after those first few pages it is easy to imagine standing in that village around 4000BC, looking around and taking stock of your surroundings. You will be left wondering if the Nile flood will be good this year, you will be checking your storage bins to see if you have enough supplies to get you through the next year. It is really that good; it draws you in to the point where you can imagine you are really there. These were real people who had thoughts and ideas, who understood relationships and even buried their dead with offerings.

It takes you all the way through to the building of the great pyramids and beyond. Small things such as the graffiti left behind by the stone masons have a profound effect on our understanding of this historical period. Some parts of the human aspects of the book were quite haunting.

This book was a revelation because it is unlike so many historical texts. It is a book for everyone, it contains more than just history and written in more modern style, it make it more than just a pleasant read.

I have to give full marks, five stars, because anything less would be an injustice.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Erudite and engaging, 12 May 2012
By 
Simon Tavener - See all my reviews
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I have been obsessed with Ancient Egypt for more than 30 years. There is something completely magical about this civilisation that keeps me coming back to it.

Romer has long had an excellent reputation for bringing Egypt to life for a modern audience - and this book just confirms that he is essential reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the subject.

He tackles the early days of the region - and this was mainly new to me - and fascinating as a result. It is clear that his research is detailed and thorough - but his prose is always clear and readable.

I found the whole experience of reading it wonderful - and can't wait for the sequel!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening and superbly written, 13 May 2012
By 
P. A. Pendrey - See all my reviews
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From the earliest farmers through to the building of the great pyramid John Romer writes with enthusiasm and gives understandable explanations. He describes how the hunter-gatherers became settled farming communities using animal husbandry and their knowledge of the River Nile combined with the seasons to produce sufficient food to feed the population. Well described are the first burial sites of the early kings and the legacy they left for Egypt's future generations.

John Romer discusses some of the extraordinary ideas created by the Victorians and corrects many of their conclusions.

Moving to the pharaohs and the construction of the pyramids Romer tells of the step pyramids and the 'bent' pyramid (this is a very interesting topic because of how its unique shape came into being) and finally detailing the the Great Pyramid of Khufu. There are excellent descriptions of tomb paintings and of the artefacts found within the chambers of the various graves and pyramids. These things are brought to life for the reader so that one can imagine both ordinary people and royal persons wearing or using the objects.

The author does not overlook those people who served and those whose ingenuity designed the pyramids or the many workmen engaged in building them and their associated monuments.

The book is well illustrated with maps, diagrams and colour plates.

A great insight into the lives and developing cultures of the early people in Egypt.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hmmn, 28 Sep 2012
By 
L Weale - See all my reviews
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I have a strong layperson's interest in Egyptology, so I was very excited to have the first of two volumes, giving a broad but detailed overview of Egyptian history starting in pre-dynastic times. I think there is room for a couple of modern books with this compact view.

I was rather disappointed with this volume. I find John Romer's writing style overly definitive about events that happened before the invention of writing. While it is quite interesting to read someone of such strong opinions it does mean you can disagree with quite a bit of what is written. John Romer has a rather cavalier approach to what is recent thinking amongst egyptologists and what is already out of date.

I probably will buy Volume 2 but more for completeness sake than anything else.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From a broad brush to the fine detail, 17 Jun 2012
By 
Sue Bentley (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This is a book with heart. John Romer presents a competently researched and fascinating history of Egypt, which is well written and sensibly structured, and that's good but what you would expect. However he does something more, he draws you in as you read and you become deeply interested in the type of pots the fisher-folk on the shore of the lake used, or the small changes in successive plans for the first real pyramid. A classic example of the quality of his writing is the chapter about the Hierkonpolis tomb paintings. First, he tells us where they were found and what their context is. Then he tells us the details of the drawings, the fact that the boats were painted all at the same time and were the first things on the wall and that subsequent additions have been done in different styles by other people. Yet they were all painted using the same pigments at the same time. From this he concludes that at the funeral, relatives and friends drew helpful things on the tomb wall before they sealed it. Pictures of successful hunts and ibex and odd images of a man mastering beasts and another clubbing prisoners who are tied together.

We read some more about what the six boats looked like, and that they bigger and sturdier than the earlier boats and can carry cabins and passengers. This leads us seamlessly into a new discussion on the increase of trade on the Nile and the new co-operation between small settlements to build the bigger boats. Images of these same boats are also found on pottery, and again the author draws us in and onwards with interesting and colourful details about the pots and the boats.

The whole book is like that - a grand sweep of time as the small villages changed and began building tombs, and then we drift gently down into the intimate and intriguing detail of the funeral party happily splashing pigments around to help the deceased in the next life. Then back to the strong trends and changes as the Egyptian civilisation develops and big trading ships ply the Nile waters.

Its a lovely writing style because if you are studying Egyptian history seriously you get everything you need to know clearly presented. If you are just interested in a general sort of way, you get lots of interesting facts and stories and realise you have alos learned a whole lot of history!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Romer's engaging chronicle of an ancient desert civilization is anything but dry, 14 Jun 2012
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The Guardian (UK) - See all my reviews
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John Romer has the rare skill of transforming a mass of historical detail gathered from years of scholarly analysis into lively, readable prose which can in no way be described as `dumbed down' or `populist' but is nevertheless readable and engaging, and the antithesis of dry academia. He's also an excellent documentary film presenter, including just the right amount of detail to hold the interest of the average intelligent viewer.

This first volume of a planned two-volume set covers the history of what we know as `Ancient Egypt' from recent archaeological evidence of the earliest hunter-gatherers settling into farming communities on the ancient lower Nile - the so-called `Neolithic revolution' - up until the "transformation of the pharaonic court from a progressive and inventive community into a culturally conservative society"; the history of pre-hieroglyphic Egypt up to the construction of the great pyramids of Giza at the end of the Fourth Dynasty around 2,500BC.

Romer does an excellent job in bringing this long period of history alive and showing the development of the early lower Nile civilization through measurable phases, often focussing on the everyday lives of `ordinary' folk and demonstrating for example how the repetitive labour of milling corn in a certain way impacted on the skeletons of the women of the period, visible in the surviving archaeological remains. The author points out that a detailed history such as this one could not have been written even 20 years ago, as much of the knowledge base has only recently been recovered and pieced together.

This substantial 400-page hardcover volume from Allen Lane (of Penguin Books) is smartly edited, illustrated throughout the text with helpful drawings, and has two separate 8-page sections of colour plates.

Romer plans a companion volume covering the later period from 2,500BC, during which long period Egypt increasingly interacted with its neighbours around the Mediterranean, some of whom were to ultimately engineer the demise of this greatest of all ancient civilizations.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read, informative, 31 May 2012
By 
Matt Chase (UK) - See all my reviews
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As somebody with little knowledge about Ancient Egypt I found this book fascinating. Written in a compelling and informative style I couldn't put it down. Everything you need to know from 5000 BC to the Pyramids. Highly recommended.
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A History of Ancient Egypt: From the First Farmers to the Great Pyramid
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