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The Mummy Congress: Science, Obsession, and the Everlasting Dead

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  542 Ratings  ·  72 Reviews
The Mummy Congress takes us on a journey over five continents and back nearly 7,000 years. Pringle tells how mummies have been venerated as saints, fought over by politicians, collected as artistic treasures and investigated for clues to ancient civilization's drug use. In these pages lie child mummies of northern Chile, preserved household pets of ancient Egypt and the ne ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 19th 2002 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2001)
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The Mummy Congress by Heather PringleThe Bog People by Peter Vilhelm GlobMummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures by Aidan CockburnIceman by Brenda FowlerBodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination by Karin Sanders
Mummy Science
1st out of 41 books — 12 voters
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
355th out of 1,028 books — 2,509 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,283)
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K.D. Absolutely
Nov 28, 2011 K.D. Absolutely rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Creepy yet very informative. The kind of information that you can get only from actually reading a book. You see, there is not too many mummy experts in this world.

Mummy experts are those who work on this solitary and thankless job: studying the mummies around the world. They dissect the long-dead and determine how long they have been dead, what was done to their body that they were able to defy the natural process of decomposition, the cause of their deaths, etc. In doing these, they hope to un
Mar 08, 2016 Antigone rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Science journalist Heather Pringle provides a lively and entertaining report on the status of mummies in the new millennium. Filled with history, clever character sketches, curiosities and fascinations - the pages turn at a swift clip to address not only the Egyptian standard, but mummies from around the globe.

Were you aware of the discovery of an entire community of well-preserved Caucasian corpses (circa twenty-first century B.C.) in the northwestern corner of China? Good, because the Chinese
Victoria Blacke
Jun 28, 2015 Victoria Blacke rated it it was amazing
I bought this book because I have a passing interest in ancient civilizations and Egyptology. The title in particular is what grabbed my attention. I believe this book was written for someone with similar inclinations, NOT for the hardcore intellectual or enthusiast who professes to know all the in and outs on the subject. Keep in mind the author herself is a journalist whose interest in the subject was sparked after covering the Mummy Congress; she is not a history professor or archeologist. I ...more
Lena Wright
Mar 01, 2013 Lena Wright rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Once upon a time, I trained to be a bioarchaeologist in college, with a specialty in mortuary archaeology. As such, this book is certainly right up my alley - it's effectively a "How It Works" for these particular fields.

This book is a fascinating, in-depth look at the world of bioarchaeology and how it pertains to the study of ancient human remains. The focus is, as the title implies, mummies.

If you find mummies, death rituals and funerary rites, or relatable popular science tales interesting,
Sep 26, 2014 Alger rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is something missing from the heart of this book, something vital that would push it over the edge and into something great. There is certainly nothing wrong with the writing, which is friendly and accurate. The descriptions and characterizations are detailed and engaging. Neither is it the topic, because Pringle found plenty of interesting and surprising anecdotes to fill the pages. Instead, I feel it was the episodic approach the book takes to the topic, moving from one variety of mummy ...more
Mar 04, 2014 Allyson rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014-challenge
I expected something very different from what I ended up reading when I picked up The Mummy Congress. Most reviews led me to believe I'd be reading a mere history of mummies. While the book does give a overview of the history of mummies, it also delves into the odd world of those who study mummies. Through telling the story of these meticulous and eccentric researchers, Pringle reveals the world of mummies to the casual enthusiast.

I don't recommend this book to those who are easily grossed out
Tom Schulte
Apr 14, 2013 Tom Schulte rated it really liked it
I really appreciate my colleague Tony thinking to loan me this book. I love detailed accounts of obsessive subcultures and the insular, scientific world of mummy specialists qualifies. This was a thought-provoking work. One of the controversies in the field is whether to do destructive autopsies on mummies. I had hoped for a middle ground: at most use the accurate, tiny tools of laparoscopic surgery and digital laparoscopes. However, a close look at the work of an avid dissector convinced me: to ...more
Feb 22, 2008 Kirsten rated it really liked it
After Heather Pringle attended the Mummy Congress, an academic convention for the archaeologists and others who specialize in the study of mummified humans, she was so fascinated that she sought out experts in the field to help satisfy her curiosity about mummies. Along the way, she also reflects on why we are so fascinated by mummies, and what that fascination has historically meant for the treatment of mummified humans. This is a really interesting book, since it reveals the scope of mummy res ...more
Oct 22, 2010 Keith rated it liked it
This would be a very absorbing book for the uninitiated. With a lifelong interest in the subject, however, I tire of the way authors breathlessly emphasise Caucasian mummies. I think they're typically not really conscious of the difference in their responses to, for instance, the ancient Tarim Basin peoples. While in The Mummies of Urumchi, Elizabeth Wayland Barber clearly can't get over her Eurocentrism, to Heather Pringle's credit, she does acknowledge that conservatives actively want new find ...more
Apr 24, 2010 Kristen rated it it was amazing
I should preface this by saying that I have been somewhat obsessed with mummies myself since at least the 4th grade. So to find a book that was all about mummies- but written for adults and not 4th graders was exciting. I learned so many interesting things reading this book- my favorite being that they used to make paint out of ground up mummies. But I think what I appreciated most was the look at mummies globally (not just Egyptian mummies) and what we are learning from them scientifically.
Janice Salmon
Jul 18, 2013 Janice Salmon rated it really liked it
I found this book at a yard sale, the cover title caught my eye., so for 25 cents why not. I really enjoyed it. Loved that I got a glimpse into the world of mummy studies. Because it was not written by a scholar it was pleasure to read. As a child I read a piece of fiction that was written about a mummy and how the author thought she came to be in the bog. I loved that book and have read anything about mummies since.
Sarah Sammis
Feb 09, 2012 Sarah Sammis rated it it was amazing
Shelves: released, pc, read-in-2005
I really enjoyed this book and learned a few things too. The text is easy to understand for someone outside the fields of study covered in this book. I like how each chapter is focused on one topic rather then trying to write a chronological piece. Being able to focus on parasites for an entire chapter made reading much easier than having to keep track of a bunch of names and dates.
Jan 30, 2008 Jessica rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book. The pictures included are surreal. So many of the mummies pictured have been preserved so well that it is almost unnerving. Great information included and very interesting facts about mummies, archeaology and humanly preservation.
Doug Walters
Dec 26, 2015 Doug Walters rated it it was amazing
One of the most enjoyable and fascinating books I've read in years. If you've even a passing interest in mummies and the history of cool skeletal discoveries, you owe it to yourself to read this book!
Feb 21, 2016 Christine rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
An interesting, and overall enjoyable read. Each chapter described different topics about the histories of mummies and the cultures of the people who created them. However, I felt like this book only touched the surface of several different topics, and never deeply described much of anything. It seemed confused about what the main subject of the book was supposed to be about. A good overview of the topic, but it did nothing to quench my knowledge-seeking of the subject itself. As another reviewe ...more
Feb 02, 2008 kellyn rated it really liked it
This book explained in detail the cultural significance and scientific elements involved in preserving human bodies in places around the world. I hadn't realized how many different cultures practiced preservation of the dead.

I appreciated all the research the author did, citing over 4 pages of other books and research journals. There were numerous interviews with cultural anthropologists, pathologists, archaeologists, and biologists throughout the book to make it really engaging and very info
Jan 11, 2013 Emily rated it it was ok
Shelves: women-authors
The book is interesting and a leisurely read until it reaches it’s closing arguments, which are terrible. Over all the book is an a hap-hazard investigation of the of a number of fields within mummy studies and archeology. It seems that Pringle has selected the juiciest and most grotesque aspects of the field to detail as both a self-aware pandering to the public and her own morbid fascination in the topics. Pringle looks into the public’s morbid fascination with mummies as well, and concedes th ...more
Dec 21, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it
Found this while browsing the local library's collection under "forensic science".

The author starts off with a visit to the Third World Congress on Mummy Studies - a conference for paleontologists, pathologists and anyone else who is interested/obsessed with mummies. She then visits with experts from around the world, visiting China, Japan, South America and (of course) Egypt. Her focus is primarily on current-day studies, although one chapter does deal with the history of Egyptology. One sligh
Nov 07, 2014 Khaki rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the delightfully talented Anna Fields. She made Pringle's hauntingly beautiful writing style come to life. Everything Pringle saw, I saw, with great detail. And Pringle herself has a way of explaining the scientific world with intelligence and comprehendability that makes this book as fascinating as it is relatable; she mixes the science of discovery with the emotions that connect us with these mummies that once walked our Earth.

It would not
Aug 27, 2008 Ushore rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: historians
Whoever would have thought that a book about mummification could be an engrossing read – and for someone extraordinarily squeamish! “The Mummy Congress” is precisely that.
Written in a flowing and gossipy style, the book is about the preservation of the dead, from the rituals of Egypt to our own, modern times; from intentional mummification to that accidental. True, the theme is bizarre and the photographs – well I snipped them out immediately, well I mean! – but what a superb read. One of the mo
Sep 09, 2008 Lara rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this! It's very well organized; each chapter covers a different topic relating to mummies, some of them quite surprising, and ends right back where it started--at the Mummy Congress in Arica, Chile, just at the edge of the Atacama desert. It's a journalistic book (imagine a really, really long National Geographic article, but quite a bit less dry) rather than a scientific type book--enough information on various topics to get you more interested, but not enough to become tedious ...more
Mar 10, 2016 Camille rated it really liked it
So many more mummies in the world than just Egyptian royalty! Excellent introduction to all sorts of them and the dedicated, and sometimes a bit odd, people who dedicate their lives to studying them. Scientific, yet very readable. A good look at the behind the scenes goings-on at museums and universities and research. Still up to date. Enjoyed this very much.
Jun 09, 2012 Jack rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed reading this book. It's written by a journalist which gives it a more engaging and less technical style and weaves anecdote and science together very nicely, along with the author's own musings on the subject. While it begins at a scientific conference on mummy research in South America, it quickly crisscrosses the globe from China to Egypt (no mummy book could be written without mentioning Egypt!) to Soviet Russia. It covers both history and ongoing research. There's a lot of i ...more
Kathleen McRae
Jul 23, 2011 Kathleen McRae rated it really liked it
This book could easily be made into several documentaries for television.It has interesting documentation and research on mummies from different parts of the globe and some of the people who chase the mummies story. The interesting twist here is how each anthropologist follows the story.Some are following drug use in ancient cultures by examining ancient mummy hair samples,others dispelling the myth of "the Incorruptibles" religious saints who were proclaimed so because of their seeming inabilit ...more
Apr 14, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was amazing
I totally forgot about this book, and then it popped into my head last night as I was thinking about possibly seeing Peruvian mummies if we go to Peru. This book is an easy read for anyone interested in any sort of archeology or mummies or mysterious ancient finds,etc. It details mummy discoveries, NOT in Egypt, but in places one might not think of, like the bogs of the Netherlands; or finding a very caucasion, red headed man in the depths of the Chinese mountains from thousands of years ago. Re ...more
Hannah Givens
Aug 21, 2015 Hannah Givens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The writing wasn't terribly good, but the information makes up for it!
Mar 17, 2015 Allyn rated it it was amazing
It was so enjoyable to read, I just wish it was longer!
Apr 17, 2014 Carthagodelindaest rated it liked it
This was an interesting book that I wish had been just a bit longer. It felt like once my attention was grabbed by one mummy story, the chapter was over and we were on to the next mummy. The only bad parts were where the author interjected herself into the narrative - it was a bit jarring and did not add to the information presented - and the chapter on the Chinchorro mummies seemed to contain more speculation than anything.
Interesting book, nice writing style.
Nov 30, 2015 Wayne rated it really liked it
great book. discussing many areas of mummy culture Pringle tells how mummies have been venerated as saints, fought over by politicians, collected as artistic treasures. A powerful and stimulating look at mummies. some vivid pictures also
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