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

4.12 of 5 stars 4.12  ·  rating details  ·  448 ratings  ·  65 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 GlobIceman by Brenda FowlerBodies in the Bog and the Archaeological Imagination by Karin SandersThe Millionaire and the Mummies by John M.   Adams
Mummy Science
1st out of 37 books — 8 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
273rd out of 858 books — 1,972 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 968)
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K.D. Absolutely
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
...more
Victoria Blacke
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
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,
...more
Kirsten
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
Keith
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
Kristen
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.
Allyson
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
...more
Sarah Sammis
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.
Alger
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
Jessica
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.
Tom Schulte
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
kellyn
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
...more
Emily
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
Tracey
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
...more
Khaki
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
...more
Ushore
Aug 27, 2008 Ushore rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Lara
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
Jack
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
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
Jennifer
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
noelle
disappointing tbh

dead people and their bodies are forever fascinating, but i feel like any well-rounded book about them should include shit about the impact of imperialism inherent to white people excavating the graves of indigenous peoples and putting them on display. and like, not just a couple of sentences here and there glossing over it.

also the last chapter was laughably bad. she quotes naomi wolf! no one should ever quote naomi wolf unless they're mocking her for being a shitty feminist. s
...more
Carthagodelindaest
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.
Elentarri
Interesting book, nice writing style.
Tristy
This incredibly detailed book tries to give both an academic, scientific explanation of mummy research of both today and the past, as well as tell an exciting journalistic story of the wild life of current mummy researchers. Both sides are very thorough, but the bridging of the two was not done very well. Regardless, this is an amazing book filled with incredible information. The 12-year-old in me was enraptured. Didn't we all go through a mummy phase?
Janice Salmon
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.
Kandice Newren
I learned so much in this book, and I loved every minute of it. It was a combination of anthropology, history, and science. I had no idea about some of the things in the book, and I happened upon it by chance. Did you know there are bog mummies in the Netherlands? There are also about a dozen monk mummies in Japan. Yes I have a bizarre fascination with mummies, and I hope to expand on that topic in the future.
H
Told from first person perspective, the author travels around the world to conventions, memorials, and other places to cover the topic of mummies. The ways human bodies decompose are explained in detail, and odd-ball mummies, such as red-haired Caucasian looking mummies in China, are explored. On a sad note, I went to see that particular mummy while I was in China last month but could not find it.
Crystal Friars
I had the privilege of attending the World Congress of Mummies Studies in Turin, Italy in 2004. I also met some of the people that were mentioned in this books. Wonderful people and fascinating research. I recommended this book to a friend of mine and she is now an archaelogist that has attended two of the congresses. A must read for the adult that is still fascinated by mummies.
Krystal Hammond
Heather Pringle writes quite well and covers a variety of mummies in this book--not just Egyptian mummies, which seems to be what most mummy books are about. I definitely recommend this for anyone who wants to get a broad sense of a lot of different mummy types. If you want to get into some intense detail, though, you probably need to jump into the academic literature.
Tanya
Really fascinating book. I've always thought of mummies as the linen-wrapped folks from Egypt. They're really any person that is preserved by human means or by natural means.

She details where mummies have been found, how they were preserved and their culture. She also describes the researchers who study mummies and what studies are done.

Very cool book.
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