Libby's Reviews > Tutankhamun, the Untold Story

Tutankhamun, the Untold Story by Thomas Hoving
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's review
Mar 23, 2015

really liked it
bookshelves: ancient-world, art, egypt

Despite this having been steadily in print since 1978, I had just never gotten around to it. I'm glad I finally picked this up, for Hoving tells it all in stylish and engaging language. Most of us have at least heard of Tutankhamun. Many of us have seen specials on TV, exhibits at museums and so on. Hoving tells a gossipy, behind the scenes tale of the seedy nitty-gritty behind the gold and the glamor. He ushers us into the palmy days of the British Empire, when Egypt was an uneasy Protectorate of the British Crown, and archeology was paid for by rich foreigners, who expected to be paid in loot, uh---I mean antiquities. The money in this case was Lord Carnarvon, an especially wealthy English Earl. He came to Egypt on the advice of his doctors when he was recovering from severe injuries from a car wreck. When he caught the Egyptology bug, he hired a prickly, self-righteous archeologist named Howard Carter. Carter had been trained by the best Egyptologists of the time. He was methodical, thorough and tenacious. They both were enthralled by a particular dream. They longed to locate the tomb of a shadowy figure, a Pharoah of the 18th dynasty, a character of many mysteries. The common wisdom of the digging community held that the Valley of the Kings was exhausted and there were no more tombs to be found. Carter was sure that the pundits were wrong. With his usual meticulous care, he had mapped out areas already investigated, and had targeted a roughly triangular area where no one had excavated. To make a long story short, after much sweat, anguish and expenditure, they found it, the Mother Lode, the real deal. They located King Tut's tomb, the only unlooted (well sorta) tomb ever found. Sounds like a fairy tale, huh? Well, not so much. At this point, Hoving's tale begins to warm up. He takes us into the politics, the greed, the nationalism, patriotism, arrogance and bone-headed idiocy that plagued what should have been an archeological dream. He introduces us to the major players and the shadowy figures behind the screen. These were the last days of the excavator as looter, and we see museums, government offices and newspapers all plotting to get their share of gold and/or glory. It is a saga both sordid and ridiculous, and Hoving makes us feel as though we were there. I'm happy to recommend it to all my friends. I'm happily plotting to find Hoving's other books. I do love educated and cultured skullduggery.

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