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Red Land, Black Land: Daily Life in Ancient Egypt

4.16  ·  Rating Details ·  664 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews

A fascinating, erudite, and witty glimpse of the human side of ancient Egypt—this acclaimed classic work is now revised and updated for a new generation

Displaying the unparalleled descriptive power, unerring eye for fascinating detail, keen insight, and trenchant wit that have made the novels she writes (as Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) perennial New York Times
ebook, 432 pages
Published January 25th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published November 1967)
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Petra X
The blurb might say "delightfully personal style" but that's because it's advertising. I seriously don't want to hear irrelevant personal opinions and interjections such as 'one day I'm going to get that piece of furniture copied' from an author who considers herself an academic Egyptologist. Nor do I want conjectures about why such an advanced civilization had no military tactics or training whatsoever. Of course they did. Just because no trace of something is found doesn't mean it didn't happ ...more
Lauren Albert
Feb 13, 2011 Lauren Albert rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-ancient
When I was in Sixth Grade, we did a unit on Ancient Egypt. All these years and it took me until today to realize that it was the same time as the King Tut exhibit came to NY (the first time). Well, I was hooked and told everyone that I was going to be an Egyptologist. I still have a book from back then called "The Splendor that was Egypt." In Junior High, at some point I was allowed to pick any topic for my English paper. Naturally enough, like any teenage girl would, I wrote a paper entitled "R ...more
I love Barbara Mertz and her genuine passion for Egypt. I had no doubt that I would thoroughly enjoy yet another book by her. As opposed to Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt, which focused on the chronological history of Egypt and its rulers, Red Land, Black Land is more of a sweeping overview of Egyptian culture. She touches upon such interesting topics as medicine, food, household, women's rights, and of course pyramid building among others. There are some in ...more
Mar 10, 2015 Carly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, history

I've been a fan of MPM, aka Barbara Mertz, aka Elizabeth Peters, aka Barbara Michaels, for years. Although I've read almost every book under almost all of her names, I still love the Amelia Peabody series the best. In these books, the indefatigable Amelia Peabody, parasol in hand, defies Victorian mores to indulge her passions for Egyptology. The books are adorable Gothic spoofs, but they also manage to pack in a rather impressive amount of information about both Victorian Egyptology and the
Apr 24, 2009 Tammy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very informative and fascinating peek into life in ancient times in Egypt. The author, although a noted Egytology scholar, writes in a sweet, simple converstional style. She relays touching anecdotes such as the mummified cat of a minor prince with an inscription translating roughly as "Miss Kitty, beloved pet". She goes into the everyday objects and experiences such as the cosmetic procedures, style of dress (flattering only on very slender people she points out), and the practice of ...more
Jul 02, 2008 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt
Barbara Mertz is my favorite author in the world. She is a lady who got her degree in Egyptology before "Ladies" did so. She is known for her 2 non fiction books and her numerous fiction writing. This book is older than me and was recently revised and published. I would recommend it to anyone who has even the vaguest interest in Ancient Egypt. Her writing style is very approachable and entertaining as well as spot-on accurate. She is biased towards and against some theories but unlike most she f ...more
Mar 10, 2015 Erica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
“This is not a book about ancient Egyptian culture; it is a book about ancient Egyptians.” Barbara Mertz starts out her book with this line, and it perfectly describes her work. “Red Land, Black Land” gives details of Egyptian life in different periods of history. She traces life from birth to death in all the myriad ways life can go.

Mertz has a pleasant, conversational tone throughout the book that makes it feel more like you’re listening to her describe a personal experience over tea rather
Tiger Gray
Jun 10, 2014 Tiger Gray rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Whether you read this text for religious or secular purposes, the information within will be of great help to you. It's very detailed, and the author is quite willing to condemn unfortunate thought processes like eurocentrism, pyramidism, and more. She presents a balanced perspective and does a good job of separating personal opinion from accepted truth.

The major downside is her flippant, smug tone, especially around the issue of religion. She is the stereotypical high and mighty atheist (or so
An excellent, if at times dry, overview of life in ancient Egypt.

Organized from birth to death and afterlife, this is a very good primer on what life was like, how it was lived, and what the norms were likely to have been in ancient Egypt over the centuries.

I was surprised to find that the chapters describing the blend of magic, religion, science, and medicine were my favorite while those retelling the myths and the afterlife were a bit more of a slog for me. I think what struck me was how the
Jul 06, 2016 MrsRK rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mrs. Mertz's book is a good way to gather basic general knowledge of pharaonic Egypt. It has a nice little reading list by subject; yet she needs to add Aidan Dodson's "Monarchs of the Nile," to it. The book has some nice pictures too. Now, it is certainly difficult to write a book without bias--and here I am, giving my biased opinion!--but not impossible, and it should be of utmost importance to an Egyptologist conveying the little that survived about that civilization.

Her "feminist inclinatio
May 19, 2016 Georgene rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Usually I do not read books on Egyptology this old. However, despite being originally published first published in 1966, it has been revised at least twice since then. While still a little dated because of the all in the new information that has come to light even in the last five years, this book still is valid in that it looks at HOW the Egyptians lived and how they thought.

What I like about this book is that the author is not afraid to say "I don't know". She often gives out various points of
Rick Davis
If you are a fan of ancient Egypt, then you must read Red Land, Black Land by Barbara Mertz. It was pure pleasure to read this book detailing the daily life of ancient Egypt based on the archaeological record. Mertz approaches the issues in this book with all the scholarly reservations necessary to make her a trustworthy source, while at the same time writing in an informal style that feels like having a conversation with an old friend. I especially liked the way she wove anecdotes about various ...more
J. Else
Apr 26, 2016 J. Else rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ancient-egypt
"Its an ironic fact that when magic works, it is no longer magic but science."

What I love about this book is its excellent prose thanks to an experienced and talented fiction writer. The narrative is engaging and so unlike any other history book -- its not dry!!! While the author clearly presents her own point of view, this does not limit her presentation of the material, and she eloquently presents numerous schools of thought. She also includes fun side stories pertaining to Egypt's archeologic
Karen Ireland-Phillips
Must. Own. [ETA: Oh, yeah, I bought it. Books before groceries!][return][Full disclosure: I am a total geek for ancient Egypt, and I absolutely love the Amelia Peabody adventures, penned by Ms. Mertz as Elizabeth Peters.][return]In her original forward, the author's thesis statement is “This is not a book about ancient Egyptian culture; it is a book about ancient Egyptians.” Ms. Mertz doesn't quite keep her promise (the behavior of people is their culture, is it not?), but deftly avoids the patr ...more
Oct 16, 2012 Betsy-the-muffin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library, egyptology
I'm not qualified to comment on the academic grounding of this, which is the biggest reason I'm only giving it four stars - I'd only feel comfortable giving nonfiction five stars if I were absolutely sure its content were accurate, and I'm insufficiently educated to judge that in an absolute way. :)

That said, Mertz has written an incredibly readable and incredibly *entertaining* overview of credible, informed opinions about ancient Egyptian history, mythology, and daily life. She's careful to ma
This was a lot more fun than I thought it would be! Mertz writes her non-fiction egyptology books with the same sense of humor she exhibits in her fiction works, and it was fun to hear her descriptions of the actual history behind the things she writes about in her Amelia Peabody series. The book's main premise seems to be that ancient Egyptians were not the solemn and sober people that their tombs and monuments might have us believe them to have been, but people much like us, and I think she ma ...more
Aug 20, 2014 Yemoss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pragmatic approach explaining the mysterious cultural phenomena which is Egyptology. Everything is touched upon including a catalog of gods, demigods, pharaohs, kings, scribes, slaves, nobles and artisans. Mummification, Pyramidology, Hieroglyphs, Tombs and the Afterlife are thoroughly explored. Overall, a fully immersive and highly-readable primer of a most fascinating ancient civilization.
Jennifer Wilbanks
Dec 13, 2015 Jennifer Wilbanks rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, it was a very good book. I learned a lot about the lives of regular people in Egypt. With that said, she was rather pedantic and even condescending to her readers on a number of occasions. She also had a tendency to spend more time on tangents than what the chapter was about. They were interesting tangets, but they ended up really altering the substance of a chapter supposedly about a particular topic.
Mar 27, 2013 Denise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Barbara Mertz has a PhD in Egyptology. She is, therefore, enough of a scholar to know what she is talking about when it comes to the culture of ancient Egypt. That said, I didn't much care for this book. I was glad that it wasn't another "dry" discussion about Pharaoh XYZ and Middle Kingdom ABC but IMHO the author was flippant and seemed to throw facts to the reader willy-nilly. She jumped back and forth on subjects, told us she had a personal opinion on certain debatable topics and then decline ...more
Mar 12, 2015 Annie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great company piece to Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs. While there's some history, this book focuses more on fleshing out life in Ancient Egypt (hence the title) and provides a more well rounded view of the period. You can only get so much from names and dates. I think I liked this book better because it contained more new and interesting information.
Deva Fagan
I loved this in large part because I was already a fan of Barbara Mertz's Egyptian mystery series, written under her pen name as Elizabeth Peters. Listening to this audiobook, it was very much as if Amelia Peabody herself was giving me a series of lectures on ancient Egyptian life, with a great deal of love for the topic and the ancient Egyptians themselves. I appreciated that Mertz continually reminded the reader that these were real, living people, not so different from us. And I loved her dry ...more
Lindsey Fairleigh
This book is fantastic, as is Ms. Mertz's knowledge of the ancient Egyptians and her ability to make logical and believable interpretations of physical evidence. She makes the ancient world accessible to us modern folks, painting a vivid picture of the every day for these ancient peoples--which is VERY welcome when almost all publications on Egyptology focus on tombs and temples. After reading this, I have a much better idea of what it might really have been like to lived in various time periods ...more
Kate  K. F.
Aug 10, 2016 Kate K. F. rated it really liked it
This book achieves something that's always tricky with nonfiction books about eras that feel familiar, it goes deep into why Egyptologists think what they do about Egypt. The style of writing is charming, I felt as if I was attending a well run class by someone who knows their stuff. I personally love reading about the ancient world as a classistist and books that look into the whys and also the everyday lives make me happy. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants a different perspective ...more
Jun 20, 2010 Heidi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed this book!! I loved the author's whit and candor (maat). I have a greater understanding of the Egpytians, one that isn't muddied by myth and misconception. The chapter on death particularly interested be as she drew parallels to our own, advanced civilization and how we view death. I've decided that I want to be cremated. The only thing that I would say against it is that there weren't enough pictures and therefore some of her descriptions were hard for me to follow.

My favor
Jonathan Anderson
Very accessible to a generally educated reader yet full of information. It challenges our perspectives of not only that of ancient peoples, but also of the scholarly community and our own modern culture.
Enjoyable guide to daily life in Ancient Egypt, stripped of any wild assumptions or new age trappings of pyramid power and the like. The author is an Egyptologist who writes the Amelia Peabody series of mysteries under the name Elizabeth Peters. The same wry sense of humor she brings to her fiction is present throughout ... warning sensitive readers to skip the next bit because it's icky, and then reminds you that she already warned you when she describes some details of preparing the body for e ...more
Apr 13, 2011 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I did like the book. You can tell, because I read it all the way through. I was a bit disappointed as it drifted away from what I think of as everyday life into the realm of "mortuary" attitudes, beliefs, and rituals. This aspect took up nearly a full third of a fairly dense read. The life of an Egyptian commoner, on the other hand, was used skillfully to attract my interest in the book in the first place, but then I felt like we shifted away from it to more mundane archeological interests. Howe ...more


How to be an ancient Egyptian: all you need to know about clothes, pyramids and papyrus.

What a refreshing voice on a dusty subject...

...Elizabeth Peters writing under her real name and profession as an Egyptologist but the wry voice is unmistakable.
Apr 27, 2012 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't as enamoured with this as I was with Mertz's Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs, which I think is more of a reflection of my mindset when I read the first and less about the quality or content.

Mertz writes in a relaxed, conversational, often amusing way and she writes a popular history of Egyptian daily life. I think Mertz's two books are perfect to give an inexpert reader an overview of Egypt, and she provides a reading list for readers who want more. Personally, even if I didn't feel l
Lady Knight
This was a hugely entertaining read! Very informative, and while I disagree with Ms. Mertz on some points made in reference to modern day, I was overall impressed and totally captivated by the work. While definitely a scholarly work, there are huge doses or humour, and the writing style is certainly informal. Definitely a great piece of non-fiction for fans of Mertz' historical mysteries (published under a pseudonym... Elizabeth Peters!), or anyone else looking for an introductory read about anc ...more
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Barbara Mertz (September 29, 1927 – August 8, 2013) was an American author who wrote under her own name as well as under the pseudonyms Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.

Barbara G. Mertz studied at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, receiving an M.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. in Egyptology in 1952. In 1950 she married Richard Mertz and had two children, Elizabeth and Peter. She was
More about Barbara Mertz...

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