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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000 BC to Cleopatra
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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilisation from 3000 BC to Cleopatra

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  741 ratings  ·  77 reviews
Toby Wilkinson combines grand narrative sweep with detailed knowledge of hieroglyphs and the iconography of power, to reveal ancient Egypt in all its complexity. We see the relentless propaganda, the cut-throat politics, the brutality and repression that lay behind the appearance of unchanging monarchy.
Hardcover, 646 pages
Published August 2nd 2010 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont
At the end of this week I’m leaving on a long planned trip to Egypt, one that will take me from the Great Pyramid at Giza in the north to the temple of Abu Simbel in the south, from Lower Egypt to Upper Egypt. And just to confuse you the former is the north and the latter the south! It’s the ancient Egyptian view of the world, you see, all upside down.

A lot of my extramural reading for the past while has been dedicated to books with an Egyptian theme, including Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Qua...more
Oct 03, 2011 Terence rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs (esp. Egyptian)
Recommended to Terence by: New Book shelf at library
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...more
Douglas Hackney
In the future, when someone uses the phrase, "monumental effort," I will think of this book.

Mr. Wilkinson has not only attempted, but delivered, a summary history of the Egyptian civilization, from conception to Cleopatra.

Aside from the scope of the work, coupled with actually having achieved it, the most remarkable thing about this book is that Mr. Wilkinson was able to craft such an accessible work.

Even when faced with source material that was both sparse, thousands of years old and almost...more
I read this in a library copy. I was rather surprised to see it there. Frankly books about ancient history written for the general reader have been out of favor for a couple of decades, except for American history.

This is a full scale history of Ancient Egypt, starting very early in pre-history and going to the death of Cleopatra. I'm not sure when the last book of this type was written, but I think it might have been before World War I (and that is WW I and not WW II). A lot has changed in what...more
Nothing makes you feel quite so insignificant, but a fleeting spec of dirt upon the vast plane of time, as a wonderfully gripping survey of ancient Egyptian History, 3000 through 30 BC. Indeed, the span of the entire history of the United States fits into one succinct chapter of Wilkinson's narrative. If you think that sounds negative, don't. This book gave me that complete "high" from the sheer magnitude of history I haven't felt since nerdy high school days. The inevitability that the closer y...more
The Rise & Fall of Ancient Egypt is the definitive overview of Pharanoic Egypt.It distills over 2000 years of Egyptian history in a single highly readable volume.It is wonderful reference book on one of the most fascinating ancient culture of all time.
Mahmoud Ashour
“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."Cicero

"The study of ancient Egyptian civilization," Wilkinson writes, "exposes the devices by which people have been organized, cajoled, dominated, and subjugated down to the present day."

The writer who is although a researcher and a doctor in Egyptology has done a monumental effort in condensing 3000 years in about half a thousand pages.

I found many interesting parts in the book that resonates to 2010s history o...more
An enjoyable and through romp through the entire history of ancient Egypt, and I could not help but pause at several points along the way to think about the strong continuity shown in this history between ancient and modern events. The author himself marvels at it from time to time, using the famous French phrase "Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose" (The more things change the more they stay the same) to describe his own feelings.

Given current events in Egypt, I found much in this long bu...more
Feb 10, 2012 Iset rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in ancient Egypt
I have to say, I really enjoyed this book. My professor may have derisively called it "popular history" when I proposed choosing it for my required book review for his post-graduate degree course, and forced me to choose something else, but I still love this book.

From first picking it up, it became hard every time I had to put it down. The combination of fluid, easy writing and the fact that this book is packed to the rafters with interesting, engaging material meant it quickly became a page-tur...more
Chris Ryan
I'd been looking for a good and comprehensive history of ancient Egypt on and off for some years, ever since I was fascinated as a child. A few years ago I spent half a day in the Egyptian Art department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and my interested was rekindled. I stumbled upon this book recently on a trip to San Francisco, at City Lights Books. The book more than satisfied my curiosity, and at long last the history has come into focus for me.

I have several minor critici...more
Carol Smith
[Book 4 of my 2013 goal to read 26 history books in historical sequence]

3 1/2 stars.

Comprehensive and capable but ultimately less than inspiring. It held my interest but failed to deliver a broader message. The legacy of Ancient Egypt is wrapped up in a quickie three-page epilogue that emphasizes Pharaonic contributions to pop culture. Surely there are greater lessons to be drawn from three millennia of despotic history?

Perhaps I was spoiled by having just finished Babylon: Mesopotamia and the...more
Jan Derksen
Aug 09, 2012 Jan Derksen marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition

In deze meesterlijk geschiedenis van het oude Egypte vertelt Toby Wilkinson het verhaal van een van de grootste beschavingen die ooit hebben bestaan. De geschiedenis van het oude Egypte en de uitzonderlijke beschaving die gedurende drieduizend jaar bloeide langs de oevers van de Nijl, lijkt een spektakelstuk vol bijzondere gebeurtenissen: de bouw van de piramides, de verovering van Nubia, de kracht en schoonheid van Nefertiti, de invasie van Alexander de Grote en Cleopatras fatale relatie met R

Joon Ho
This is an excellent introduction to the long and rich history of Pharoanic Egypt. Interested readers can easily use this book as starting points to explore in further depth different periods and aspects of Egyptian history.
As a chronological summary of Ancient Egyptian history it necessarily glossess over details. Even so I began to tire on the continuous stream of Pharoahs, civil wars and megalomaniac projects halfway through the book. One can't help but to think how nasty, brutish and short l...more
Trenton Hayes
Ancient Egypt is one of those ubiquitous and ill-known things with veneer of false familiarity. I read a bit of history, and for me, Egypt was King Tut, The old, Middle and New Kingdoms, and Cleopatra and the Egypt that comes down through the Greek and Roman Classics--Egypt the decadent; Egypt as Caesar's granary.

I had no idea.

When Cleopatra took her own life in 30-something BC, she stood at the end of a 3100 year tradition. So as much time and cultural distance separated Cleopatra from the firs...more
Feb 26, 2013 Chris marked it as did-not-finish  ·  review of another edition
I really wanted to like this book, but... meh. It just wasn't engaging. The author is clearly VERY knowledgeable, his writing isn't too dense or anything, but...

I think 3 millennia is simply too much for one book to cover without reading badly. I'm not giving it a star rating, because I don't feel I got far enough into it to really judge it.
I think pretty much every kid goes through a stage where they are a bit obsessed with ancient Egypt - in my case I remember wanting to change my name to Cleopatra (a totally appropriate moniker for an Australian seven-year-old in the 80s). There is something dizzying about the fact that the time period separating our lives and Cleopatra's is less that that separating her and the earliest pharaohs. Wilkinson 's book covers the entire 3000+ years of the ancient Egyptian civilisation and as such th...more
A truly mammoth book, this charts the beginning of Egyptian civilisation in c. 2950 BCE to the "end" in 30 BCE. Unlike Barbara Mertz's Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs , it doesn't shy away from going in detail about the "long goodbye" of Egyptian society*.

And, oh my, it is depressing. It's not so much the fall, so much how long and drawn out it was, and the fact that, barring one or two rebellions, the Ancient Egyptians themselves no longer played a role in Ancient Egyptian society. One can't h...more
Tricia Long
If you're looking for a casual read with interesting stories of ancient Egypt, this is not the book for you. While factually accurate, in fact staggeringly so, "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt" is about as dry as the deserts of that land. It was difficult to keep most of the Old and Middle Kingdom pharaohs straight, though that could be due to a lack of archeological evidence available. I would have liked to know more about their old religions, but the author primarily focused on the politica...more
Bob Mustin

I remember wondering as a small boy about life in the kingdoms of ancient Egypt. Maybe it was Sunday school lessons, Moses, and all that, but the Egyptian period of human development has always had me in its spell.

And Wilkinson’s book makes the spell even deeper. His story begins with Narmer, the first king of a more or less united Egypt and continues through the pyramidal age to the New Kingdom and its fully fleshed art, architecture, literature, government and religion. Wilkinson takes us fro...more
Feb 13, 2014 Tim added it
Shelves: history, 2011
Covers an amazing amount of ground (3000 years) and is generally very readable and easy to follow.

My only minor criticisms are that Wilkinson does not discuss the problems of interpreting the primary sources or the debates around specific issues in the main text. As far as these are addressed at all, they are relegated to the footnotes. At times, also, I felt that Wilkinson was over-selling the achievements of Ancient Egypt. Its cultural achievements and influence, for example, pale into insigni...more
Howard Carter in 1922, along with three companions including the Earl of Carnarvon, walked down the newly discovered steps in the bedrock of the Valley of Kings. The 26th November will long be remembered for one thing only, the day Carter brought Egyptology to the masses by discovering King Tutankhamen’s tomb.

Although discovered weeks earlier, Carter had to wait for Carnarvon’s arrival before he would step inside the tomb for the first time. Days later Carter went in search of the burial chamber...more
Wolfgang Schwerdt
Zweifellos eröffnet Toby Wilkinson seinen Lesern tiefe und oft genug auch weitgehend unbekannte Einblicke in die wechselvolle Geschichte des afrikanischen Landes, das eben nicht nur als mächtiges Großreich brillierte, aber noch in seinem Untergang eine große kulturelle Faszination auf die zeitgenössischen Mächte ausübte. Natürlich sind es die großen Pyramiden des Alten Reiches oder die mächtigen Königsgräber und Nekropolen und die schillernden Persönlichkeiten des Neuen Reiches, die zunächst in...more
M. Milner
A concise look at a large period of ancient history, Toby Wilkinson's The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt does the nearly unthinkable: distills over 2000 years of Egyptian history into a single, highly readable volume. This is a remarkable achievement, and not just because of the total number of years covered. Ancient Egypt had several wild changes of fortune, ranging from the early years under kings like Djoser and Khufu, to years of imperial power under Ramesses to subject rule under the Ptolem...more
This is not a history of Ancient Egypt. This is The Rise and Fall of the pharaonic civilisation. By dismissing the glorifying adjectives many scholars insist upon, the author gives us a fundamentally structural account of Egyptian History. Thumbs up to Wilkinson for the bold move.

It is commonplace for Egypt-loving scholars to project an image of a prosperous, pleasant and ever-so-lovely civilisation, with its patriotic might and its cultural glory, ignoring the less gracious facts lurking on the...more
Religious exploitation? Climate problems? Barbarians at the gate? Check, check, and check.

But, no, this isn't Gibbon's "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire."

While not as long or as in depth as that classic, "The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt" is still worthy of a full read. Toby Wilkinson documents the "bootstrapping" arrival of the Old Kingdom out of nowhere, then shows how it, the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom in turn had individual rises and falls.

Even for those who have some degree...more
Laura C.
A somewhat pedantic, which is not to say uninteresting, review of 5,000 years of Egyptian history. Mr. Wilkinson states his intention of showing the cost of the great Egyptian saga – both in human and political terms. And “The Lessons Of History” are bluntly stated, in case you miss them. I am sufficiently thick headed that this didn’t really bother me. What did bother me was that much of the juicy tidbits of history – the stuff that makes it all so fascinating – were missing. (Yes , I know – su...more
This was an expensive whim. Beautiful Hard Back Editions of a historical nature do no come cheap. But this book was a hoot. I am still relativity new to the world of a very ancient Egypt, I knew they had built some periods, and the Tutankhamen had lots of gold in his tomb, they had some gods with animal heads, oh yeah and the epic tale of Mark Antony and Cleopatra.

This quite large gem is a really good introduction into this world of Pharaoh's and Pyramids. The Pharaoh's were a world onto their...more
Jo Burl
As a long time egyptophile, I had to check this book out. I confess, I'm most interested in the New Kingdom's Eighteenth Dynasty and usually grow easily bored with very early or post Nineteenth Dynasty history. That didn’t happen with this book. While the book doesn’t go into depth with any particular period, I could clearly see the long term connections throughout all of the history of Egypt.

I loved the writing style, which was very readable, and the sense of humor. This is really an excellent...more
I learned so much from this book! I enjoyed the way in which the author presented the material from the very beginning. On a few occasions, it started to get a little too academic for me, but that was probably due to the fact that I was reading this book simply for pleasure. I would definitely recommend this book to others and would like to read other books by this author.
This is an extremely readable history of the Pharonic state from it's founding to its conquest by Rome. While I enjoyed the narrative, my pleasure was lessened by the fact that Professor Wilkinson couldn't resisting his own anachronistic asides and observations into the text. Yes, ancient Egypt was a form of religious dictatorship, based on the use, or at least the threat of force where most of the population lived in abject poverty. But then again, so was every other human civilization up to th...more
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Wilkinson was born in 1969. He read Egyptology at Downing College, University of Cambridge. He graduated with a first class Bachelor of Arts and was awarded the Thomas Mulvey Egyptology Prize. He completed his PhD at Christ's College, Cambridge in 1993.
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“Throughout history, megalomaniacs and tyrants have used such epithets—“father of the nation,” “dear leader”—but the terms usually have a hollow ring. Modern experience suggests that the titles are more about brainwashing and subjugation than the expression of popular acclaim. And yet, when it comes to ancient Egypt, scholars still balk at such an interpretation.” 1 likes
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