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When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

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This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra--women who ruled with real power--and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.

Female rulers are a rare phenomenon--but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power-brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today's world learn from its example?

Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages, and why we should care.

400 pages, Hardcover

First published November 6, 2018

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About the author

Kara Cooney

7 books418 followers
Dr. Kathlyn M. Cooney aka Dr. Kara Cooney is an Egyptologist and Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA. She was awarded a PhD in 2002 by Johns Hopkins University for Near Eastern Studies. She was part of an archaeological team excavating at the artisans' village of Deir el Medina in Egypt, as well as Dahshur and various tombs at Thebes.

In 2002 she was Kress Fellow at the National Gallery of Art and worked on the preparation of the Cairo Museum exhibition Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. She was a member of the teaching staff at Stanford and Howard University. In 2005, she acted as fellow curator for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Raised in Houston, she obtained her B.A. from the University of Texas.

She worked on two Discovery Channel documentary series: Out of Egypt, first aired in August 2009, and Egypt's Lost Queen, which also featured Dr. Zahi Hawass.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 923 reviews
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews473 followers
December 1, 2018

If you’ll indulge me, I precede this review with a seemingly tangential but ultimately relevant anecdote. A few years ago, as part of a male-dominated gaming group, I observed a discussion regarding how more female players could be attracted to the game. The earnest solutions suggested included pink paint jobs in the store, and adding more caring and nurturing tasks. After attempting and failing to stifle my laughter, I explained that these stereotypes are not in fact biologically in built into women, and that my personal favourite aspect was the combat, because it offered the most challenge and variety, with no two encounters the same. I was then immediately undercut by an older, evidently traditionalist woman who loudly announced that I was talking rubbish and that a competitive drive just wasn’t in a woman’s natural make up. I wondered just how she explained my lifelong aggressively competitive energy, and of course, it couldn’t possibly be that society’s narrow parameters are too restrictive in their definition of masculinity and femininity; it must be that I and other women like me are some kind of aberrant freaks, despite having never felt any kind of gender dysphoria or confusion about my female identity.

Why do I mention this incident? Because Kara Cooney’s When Women Ruled the World, well-meaning as it is and trying to highlight the reigns of some of ancient Egypt’s female rulers, is marred by scientifically unsupported, irrational stereotypes like those above. Even as Cooney sheds light on the historical facts of these women, she infers baseless stereotyped interpretations, such as that these women’s successes as rulers were because they ruled in a different style than men – they ruled better than men, Cooney tells us, avoiding rashly going to war and fostering Egypt’s prosperity like loving mothers. Given that the pool of female rulers is so small, it’s difficult to draw any conclusions about whether female pharaohs were averse to war. I couldn’t believe such nonsense in a non-fiction work from a credited historian – and yes, that is my professional Egyptologist’s opinion. This reading ignores mountains of evidence to the contrary (the many men who have successfully led from economic, diplomatic, scientific, and other foci, with reduced emphasis on war; as well as the women who have successfully and without compunction pursued the more martial arts), and is a biased and limited assessment of both men and women. I don't base that on opinion. The work of neuroscientists, psychologists, and behavioural scientists have shown that much of the notions of in-built feminine empathy and male logic are founded on confirmation bias and unscientific method, while rigorously conducted studies evidence parity and even reversal.

Cooney seems confused about her own point, in one moment highlighting how Hatshepsut’s reign was erased from the record by the male kings who followed her, but the next moment discussing how in the face of the dearth of women in modern politics society should take a lesson from ancient Egypt, which “valued a woman’s calmer, more nuanced political skills.” She plucks out six queens from Egyptian history, though there were arguably more of unusual power. Even so, this score of prominent, power-wielding women in ancient Egypt is a small number when compared to 3000 years of history which was for the most part ruled by men. Ancient Egypt is a notable example of female freedom and power – when compared to other contemporary neighbouring societies. But it was still male-dominated, and at times – usually when she is comparing to modern women in politics – Cooney implies it was an idyllic utopia. This doesn’t really ring true – we are closer to gender parity today than at any time in the past – and Cooney does not properly place ancient Egypt in context by making it clear that although it was closer to gender parity than its contemporaries, it was still nowhere near modern standards, let alone an aspirational model.

This is a shame because, aside from reinforcing stereotypes about the way in which women rule, and misstating the quality of gender parity in ancient Egypt compared to modern day versus sitting among its contemporaries, Cooney does actually make solid points. She is quite correct in stating the studies which have found the modern female leaders are deemed less trustworthy and more strident than their male counterparts, and they are critiqued more often for their visual appearance than men are, instead of for their policies. She is quite correct in highlighting the enormous gender disparity in modern positions of power. And, to be fair, Cooney does mention that not all ancient Egyptian female rulers avoided war – though she still seems to take the view that in general female power is mysteriously inherently more nurturing and peaceful.

I know that a lot of readers strongly dislike historical non-fiction that thrives on “perhaps”, “might have”, and “probably”, so if you’re one of those, you’ll find plenty to dislike here. I personally do not object to it – the way I see it, it is hardly the author’s fault if the amount of evidence we have on a historical subject happens to be scant, and as long as the reader is fully aware of speculation, it can help us to examine possible interpretations and implications out of the evidence. However, sometimes Cooney makes statements out of what is really speculation, with no qualifying “perhaps”, “might have”, or even “must have” in sight; for example, stating that Ankhsenamun became Ay’s Great Royal Wife when in fact this is still heavily debated by Egyptologists since it is based on such scant evidence: In another place Cooney says that late in the reign of Ramesses II, “12 crown princes were named and died in succession” before the succession was finally settled on Merenptah, the 13th born son who did eventually become the next pharaoh. This statement is not just misleading – it is unequivocally incorrect. The section on Kleopatra VII is the most egregious in this regard. Cooney states that there were no female monarchs between Tausret and Kleopatra VII, even though there were several Ptolemaic queens who acted as regent, affirmed co-ruler, and even independent sole ruler, before Kleopatra, most of whom she mentions in Kleopatra’s chapter – so why say there were none? At one point Cooney says that Ptolemy XII had three daughters, citing Kleopatra VI, Berenike IV, and Kleopatra VII herself , but later in the chapter she finally remembers there was a fourth daughter, Arsinoe IV. She states that Arsinoe IV was assassinated in her early thirties, moments after telling us that Kleopatra was aged 28 and Arsinoe IV was her younger sister. I get the distinct impression that Cooney doesn’t know the subject of Ptolemaic Egypt that well. Cooney accepts uncritically the hypothesis that Kleopatra VII was illegitimate, without discussing the evidence at all. Cooney also states that Kleopatra VII’s line died out with her grandson, Ptolemy of Mauretania, despite discussion by historians that there were in fact further descendants.

I really wanted to praise this book. I viewed Cooney’s previous book on Hatshepsut positively – yes, it was a popular history, and yes, it was highly speculative, but being aware of the caveats it was useful in examining the gaps in Hatshepsut’s history and the plausible scenarios that might have filled them. The basic premise of this book is one that I am interested in: female rulers of ancient Egypt, particularly those lesser known (Merneith, Sobekneferu, Tausret) rather than those more well-known (Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Kleopatra VII). I am a little disappointed that Cooney went for the big names. She does mention in the course of the text some of the stories of yet more female regents, co-rulers, and monarchs (Neithhotep, Neferuptah, Ahmes-Nefertari, Nefertari, Kleopatra II, Kleopatra III, Berenike IV), but some are not mentioned at all (Khentkawes, Ankhesenpepi II, Tiye, Arsinoe II). I don’t even mind the copious speculation in the text. What is misleading is when Cooney accepts certain hypotheses uncritically and conveys them to the reader as fact instead of just one possible scenario, and she does this far too often. On top of this, the book is marred by Cooney’s adherence to disproven gender stereotypes, which comes across as unscientific and decidedly not objective.
Profile Image for Katie/Doing Dewey.
1,066 reviews206 followers
November 20, 2018
This is a history of six women who ruled ancient Egypt. I expected to really enjoy this, having given the author’s first book (The Woman Who Would Be King) five stars. I also hate to say bad things about a book that a tour company was kind enough to send me. Unfortunately, the honest truth is that this was really bad. It’s almost impressive how the author managed to both beat the reader over the head with a feminist message and be incredibly sexist at the same time.

The one positive quality that carried over from the author’s previous book is that she managed to write engaging stories without glossing over uncertainty in the historical record. I appreciate that. On the less positive side, a lot of the uncertainties were left for footnotes. This is problematic because anyone who doesn’t read the footnotes will be left to simply believe the author’s narrative reconstruction is the truth. This book also felt lighter than the previous one, perhaps because there were so many uncertainties. She’s also covering six women in one book, instead of just one.

OK, back to the most problematic parts of this book. On numerous occasions, the author states that ‘women rule differently from men’, endorsing outdated, gender essentialist ideas about men and women. She constantly refers back to stereotypes as though they are true and have useful explanatory power. There are so many examples of this, I don’t even know where to begin. She also constantly compares the way women were treated in ancient Egypt to modern times. In many cases, I felt she was projecting current views onto ancient Egyptians without sufficient evidence. In every case, the references to current events felt jarring and will quickly date the book. Some of these references to current events include lectures about modern politics that only tangentially related to her point. For example, to demonstrate that people don’t always act in their long term best interest, she treats us to a paragraph-long diatribe about global warming.

Basically, this whole book feels like the author just has an ax to grind. She’s decided to focus on six women about whom very little is known. That doesn’t make for a great story. She’s just used them as a springboard to lecture us about how men and women are different; how women should probably be in charge because of those differences; and how women are still experiencing sexism today. The connections she makes between these women and modern figures are poorly supported, relying on insufficient evidence from both time periods to support her claims. Honestly, I can’t imagine this book appealing to anyone, as the liberal politics are likely to annoy conservatives and the sexism is likely to annoy liberals. I’m incredibly disappointed that this was the author’s follow up to a great debut.

This review first posted at Doing Dewey.
Profile Image for fatherofdragons113.
180 reviews46 followers
March 23, 2021
This book was amazing! It was everything I could possibly want.

It was feminist. It was history. It was queens. It was Ancient Egypt. It was mythology. It was mysterious. It was fantastical.

This book is basically a story of Ancient Egypt through the lens of feminism. I loved reading about each Egyptian queen and how each one seemed to rise up to claim more power than the one who came before her, whether centuries or a millennia later. Each did so in her own way and while a lot of it is speculative, Cooney defintely makes her case on how her interpretation of historical evidence could be very accurate.

I felt like I was reading a history book about a show like Game of Thrones (think Fire and Blood by Martin). I was so invested it was basically like reading fiction and knowing that these women truly lived, reigned, and fell made my experience 1000x more exciting reading this book.

To truly learn about these women was eye opening, not only about sexism in the ancient world, but about my own feminism and that even me, a gay man female-power loving fanboy, can still have indoctrinated and instinctually oppressive perceptions of women. Take Cleopatra for instance. She was a bad bitch and history has done her so dirty that even 2000 years later we still have sexist conceptions of who she was and what exactly her role was in the fall of the Egyptian Empire. We, as a society and civilization, still treat ambitious women today like we did back then.

This book added to my heart and my mind, and it's definitely one of my favorites. I will for sure be reading Cooney's other book. 10/10
Profile Image for Kevin.
493 reviews82 followers
December 30, 2022
“Given more latitude than in most other places in the ancient world, women in Egypt assumed leadership roles in the household and palace and every so often popped up on the political landscape as king of all Egypt” ~Kara Cooney, The Woman Who Would Be King

Egyptology is, by necessity, very speculative. When dealing with events in history that happened over three thousand years ago, with fragmented and sometimes questionable documentation, one occasionally has to rely on the *S.W.A.G. factor (*Scientific Wild Ass Guess). Thus, I cannot fault Professor Cooney for thesaurusing the shit out of the word “probably.” It is an accepted tool of the trade.

I am, however, a little taken back by her somewhat broad generalizations of feminine characteristics and ancient Egyptian egalitarianism...

“The feminine nature is seen by many of us today as a liability. For example, a woman’s propensity to weep at charged work meetings rather than get angry and slam a fist on the table. Her likelihood to change her mind is seen not as building consensus, but as dangerous indecisiveness. But to the ancient Egyptians this aspect was the key to a woman’s utility. The quality that allowed her to connect to the other side of an issue, to take her time to make the best decision, to give her the ability to nurture, to nag, to fight, to hold a grudge against, and to love.”

By her own admission, female rulership in Egypt was the exception rather than the rule. But there are statements throughout the book that seem to color Egyptians as somehow forward thinking and enlightened...

“Alone or in the service of others, the ancient Egyptians knew to embrace and utilize all female talents including emotionality, a mercurial nature, and an ability to softly nurture or ferociously kill when circumstance demanded it.”

Given that the reigns of Egyptian women were often utilitarian or stop-gap, that their achievements were later downplayed or discredited, that some were excluded or erased from official records, I find it hard to conclude that ancient Egypt’s ruling women were “embraced.”

Also, Cooney frequently makes comparisons between the polices and politics of 1458 b.c. and 2016 a.d. Although my politics align with Dr Cooney’s I feel like the parallels drawn between Hatshepsut and Hillary Clinton are, at best, a stretch. I find this objectionable because, in my opinion, a political bias can call academic analysis into question. It’s not that I don’t see the appalling similarities between a detestable 21st century misogynistic conman and, say, a Akhenaten (r. 1353-1336 bc), I would just prefer a little more discretion and a little less rhetoric.
Profile Image for Craig.
4,984 reviews116 followers
November 27, 2018
This is a fascinating study of six women who ruled ancient Egypt, ranging from Merneith 5000 years ago to Cleopatra when the BC countdown ended. There isn't much truly documented detail for much of the volume, as she freely admits, but I found Cooney's conclusions and speculations convincing and fascinating. The time spanned through the various dynasties was really mind-boggling, and her portrayal of life both for the ruling class and the other citizens in the hierarchy was excellent; I learned a lot from the book and though it well worthwhile. My only reservation is that I felt she drew too many parallels from the ancient time to contemporary situations with too many suggestions on how we ought to conduct ourselves. It was a bit distracting at times. I agreed with her almost all of the time, but still felt she should have stuck with the straight history in the narrative and put her modern moral judgments in footnotes or otherwise kept them separate. I won a copy from the Goodreads Giveaway program and was quite delighted to have done so.
Profile Image for KLC.
138 reviews
March 28, 2020
I read the first 1.5 chapters and skimmed the rest. It's way too political for me. I just wanted to learn about the various female rulers of ancient Egypt. I really don't care why Hilary Clinton lost the presidential race. Actually, I do care, but I'd rather hear about it through unbiased news or political experts.

It's inaccurate and embarrassingly biased. Note to all feminists: If you want to help women, don't perpetuate the lie that we're made of sugar and spice and everything nice. It doesn't help. If you think women are inherently gentler as world leaders, you should check out Queen Mary I, aka "Bloody Mary," and Elizabeth Bathory. For the record, the reason there aren't more violent women throughout history is because women don't have as much power. Historically, in cultures where women have equal amounts of power, they commit equal amounts of violent crimes. It has nothing to do with gender. I can see why the general public doesn't know that, but why does this historian not understand that yet?

Also, she seems to think ancient Egypt practiced equality more than we do because they had female rulers. That's so inaccurate. I once had a South Korean boss who was proud that they got a female president before America did. This same man would often tell me to wear makeup because men wouldn't like my natural face. So ... That alone is not an indication of gender equality. Just saying.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,707 reviews742 followers
December 10, 2018
Kara Cooney Ph.D. points out that ancient Egypt was punctuated by periods of rule by women. Many women ruled as regents for their young sons; then advised them privately when they took the throne in their teens.

Cooney reviews the reign of six female pharaohs of the Ptolemaic period that ruled in their own right. They are: Merineth, Neferusobeck, Nefertiti, Tawosret, Hatshepsut and Cleopatra. The author discusses their similarities and differences of their reigns. Cooney describes how Hatshepsut and Cleopatra took and held power. The book is well written and meticulously researched. Cooney reveals how these women survived in a male-dominated world. The author points out that women in ancient Egypt had the right to own property, and the right to divorce. I found the book interesting and could not help but make comparisons in my mind to women’s rights today.

I found the book most interesting and will look for more books by the author. Kara Cooney is a Professor of Egyptology at UCLA. The books nine hours and fifteen minutes. I read the book as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. Kara Cooney narrated the book herself.

Profile Image for Jeanne.
516 reviews299 followers
August 18, 2020
Very informative and detailed, but it’s bogged down by the authors need to constantly draw connections to current political figures and contemporary attitudes, often misrepresenting behavior and cultural attitudes as some sort of universal act of a human hive mind while ignoring centuries and vast differences in culture that separate Americans from ancient Egyptians.

I’ll be honest. It annoyed me a lot. Like a white lady telling me she was Cleopatra in a past life levels of annoyed me.

A decent read, if you can look past the White Feminusm™️
Profile Image for Olive Fellows (abookolive).
581 reviews4,711 followers
April 2, 2019
3.5 stars, rounded down. This was fascinating, but ultimately far less thorough than The Woman Who Would Be King.
Profile Image for Cara.
1,683 reviews
February 12, 2019
So disappointed with this book. Unlike many other readers, I was not familiar with Cooney's prior work and only picked this up because it was a new purchase by my local library and I love learning about Ancient Egypt, especially the women rulers.

I've never read a book with so many presumptions and theories passed off as facts (example: Cooney states that Nefertiti grew with up with Akenaten. There are theories that she was foreign born, so stating for sure that she grew up in the same palace is a bald-faced lied.) Numerous other assertations were stated as facts throughout the book. She also goes on to say that Nefertiti held little power in their relationship which I find very hard to believe, there's a reason she was named co-regent. This wouldn't have been the case if she was a dumb doormat, nothing but a pretty face. If you're going to state something like that, back that shit up with proven, verifiable facts. Just because Cooney think's feminism makes women better rules but weak is absolutely ridiculous.

Cooney's assumptions and endless posed questions were irritating to read, especially with how many there were and the content. I didn't like how she had to bring current USA politics into her book. If I wanted to read politics, I would have. I wanted to read about Ancient Egypt - she drew an unnecessary bridge between the two.

For all of her education, it seems she knows next to nothing or would rather had a political discussion based on gender roles and current politics. Not what I thought I'd be reading when I started this. If you're going to pass off mere speculation as fact be a tabloid writer instead of a Egyptologist. I'd rather read a textbook than this bullshit excuse for a factual piece of literature. I will likely never read another book by her again.
Profile Image for Laura Noggle.
676 reviews387 followers
December 16, 2019
Such a disappointment. Very little in the way of facts, which, dealing with the material is understandable.

It was her sexist gender stereotypes and constant comparison to modern politics that really put me off.

Loved the subject matter and it was entertaining in between the annoying parts, but very flimsy in the nonfiction department.
Profile Image for Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨.
1,076 reviews631 followers
May 24, 2023

I had high hopes for this book and Cooney delivered. I had a hard time pulling myself away from this book for several reasons.

1) I find the subject infinitely interesting and engaging
2) Cooney writes with such passion! She is very adept at making the subject matter both alive and relevant for modern women (and men)
3) The way that Cooney manages to intertwin these six women even though some of them are separated by thousands of years was truly inspirational. She managed to pinpoint exactly how one women made way for the next and how they built on each others experiences.
Profile Image for aphrodite.
388 reviews865 followers
Shelved as 'dnfs'
April 27, 2021
dnfed @ 25%

I almost didn’t pick this up at all because it was written by yet another white Egyptologist but I was in the mood for another nonfiction so I gave it a shot. suffice to say, my intuition was correct lol.

this book screams white feminism with the way the author tries to compare these ancient rulers to plights of modern (white) women. the constant references to donald trump & hilary clinton are forced and is prime superficial “wokeness.” it distracted from the lives of these women and really didn’t add anything to the story. the narrative that “oh look at how these queens submitted themselves just like all women have to do” is such a western view of femininity and dominance. ancient egypt was one of the most inclusive civilizations where women had so much power the greeks were FLABBERGASTED when they visited. maybe she talks about that more throughout the book, but I’m not gonna find out.

Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,041 reviews212 followers
September 30, 2020
When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt
By Kara Cooney

A very interesting read! These queens weren’t what the Egyptian system was built to support, so these queens were work-arounds, place-holders and this extraordinariness warrants close study. I thought this book would be that, but as I read through, it felt more casual. Asides, and authorial comments relating to current situations and politics was slightly off-putting. Still, learning about these women and their days in power was time well spent!

3.5 stars, all under Nut, her royal Highness. . . .
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,688 followers
July 30, 2021
Archaeology is a tricky social science to engage in. One is examining distant times on the scantiest evidence, and while one may have facts at hand (or artifacts) what those facts meant in the past and how they would have been interpreted by the people who lived with them contemporaneously is very difficult to ascertain -- if not entirely impossible. It takes imagination on the part of the archaeologist, a natural flair for storytelling and wondering about the lives of others, but a good archaeologist must also and absolutely be able to park their own biases -- those of their own time, their indoctrinations, their religion(s), their nation(s), whatever biases they have -- they must be capable of interpreting the facts as open-mindedly as possible.

I used to think Kara Cooney was such an archaeologist.

I'd seen her documentaries with my kids, and she was compelling, a good story teller, and she seemed to be driven by her love for Egyptology first and foremost. So I was excited to listen to her narrate her own book, When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt.

It has been a while since I have been so disappointed in a read. I am willing to concede that my one star rating of When Women Ruled the World may be tainted by my own bias against books that disappoint me, but since personal bias is the stuff that reviews are made of I feel I can get away with it where Dr. Cooney can't and shouldn't.

Before I get to the problems with When Women Ruled the World let me just say that Kara Cooney's voice is wonderful to listen to; Dr. Cooney must be a hell of a professor to take a class from. She has passion, conviction, and her voice invites listeners (and I am guessing her students) into the world she is painting. Her narration is the strongest part of her book. Credit where it is due, but that's where my praise ends.

As I see it there are four major flaws in When Women Ruled the World.

1. Her Thesis -- Dr. Cooney lays out the idea that Ancient Egypt -- unlike any other civilization -- reached out to women leaders in times of crisis, and that this shift to matriarchs, albeit within an authoritarian patriarchal system, is unique in the world.

It isn't.

Unless one simply ignores other nations who have had powerful female leaders, Ancient Egypt is not unique in turning to female rulers.

Ancient Egypt spanned around 3000 years of history and had, according to Dr. Cooney, six female Pharaohs, but what of England? If we see England as an Empire (and how can we not?) that spanned almost 2000 years, they have had six female leaders as well: a bad ass tribal leader, three powerful Queens -- one of whom still sits on the throne in 2021 -- and two Prime Ministers, and they have another thousand years to go to add more female leaders and beat their Ancient Egyptian rivals. Had Cooney qualified her thesis, then, as Egypt being somehow different to England, then, perhaps, her thesis would have worked. But she didn't, and she undermined herself before she even began.

2. Her Anger with the Donald-- Now I get being pissed off that Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton. I hate that prick my own self. But Dr. Cooney's constant attempts to compare Egyptian "realpolitik" to our contemporary history became increasingly ridiculous. It didn't come up once or twice, either. It was her constant go to. I don't mind attempts by archaeologists to offer contextual touchstones to their audiences, but Dr. Cooney goes far beyond offering context and way too far into the realm of false equivalency, which leads to number 3 ...

3. Her Fallaciousness -- It's not just false equivalency ... she engages in special pleading, ad hominem attacks, false dichotomy, hasty generalization and at least a couple of others I am forgetting at the moment. And her "archaeological imagination" enters the fabulist zone more than once: a zone where she tells us that we can't know anything, or that the classic authorities on a given situation have the facts wrong, yet she has the truth.

And who knows? Maybe she does have the truth, but she offers evidence for her "truths" that are tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. If I were grading her book the way I grade my students papers, she'd be deep in the low Cs teetering on the verge of a D. And Dr. Cooney is supposed to be a respected professional.

4. Her Omissions -- Time and time again Dr. Cooney leaves information out. Whether this is in her contemporary touchstones, or her philosophical/political points, or her historical facts (often surrounding who came before a female Pharaoh and/or who came after), Dr. Cooney leaves information out of her argument that could be transformative or undermining to her argument. She merely sidesteps the criticisms she herself has raised, then does nothing to hide the elephants in her room that she, herself, has revealed. It is overwhelmingly annoying and made an interesting topic almost impossible to enjoy.

Yet I find myself coming out of this disappointing read even more keen to dive into these six amazing women of Ancient Egypt. I want to know more. I want to spend time looking at what we actually know about them, to see their artifacts, to trace their tales for myself, and I suppose, despite Dr. Cooney's failures with When Women Ruled the World, that is, in itself, a success. But I wanted more from this book and Dr. Cooney. So much more. What a bummer.
Profile Image for Becky.
1,339 reviews1,630 followers
November 6, 2019
I picked this up on a whim from Audible when I had credits to burn (and was trying to use them to cancel my account since I have like 129357 audiobooks and I don't need to keep accruing credits, but have I cancelled yet? NO!). I wasn't really sure what to expect from this, but I've been reading lots of feminist stuff lately, and I'm always a fan of history, so I figured I'd take the chance. And I'm not sorry. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Because Egypt only really documented the "official" record they wanted to portray, there isn't much historical documentation about the personal lives of many of these women, but I thought that Cooney's conclusions about these women and their motives and actions were interesting and made sense. Were they accurate? No way to know, since, again, it's not like they left their diaries behind.

A quick perusal of the other reviews of this book claim that Cooney engaged in sexism... but I don't know that I agree since there wasn't a prejudicial or discriminatory aspect here. I do agree that she sometimes defaulted to stereotypical gender traits, but that's kind of to be expected, honestly.

At the very least, this book has piqued my interest in learning more about some of the lesser known Queens (or female Kings) of Egypt. Everyone has heard of Nefertiti and Cleopatra, and probably most have heard of Hatshepsut, but I'd never heard of Merneith or Neferusobek or Tawosret at all. So I will likely keep an eye out for other books about them.

Overall, I liked this, but I'm no Egyptian scholar or expert, and so I'm OK with not having all the facts. I never felt like anything was misrepresented or stated as fact when fact was unknown - Cooney stated repeatedly that there was little known about a lot of these women's lives and reigns, and so her conclusions are going to be a lot of conjecture. I don't mind that at all.

I will probably also check out Cooney's other book The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt at some point.
Profile Image for Grumpus.
498 reviews245 followers
February 20, 2019
I enjoyed reading the historical fiction Nefertiti by Michelle Moran a few years ago. It has piqued my interest in Egyptology and when I found this book about the females that ruled Egypt, I knew I had to get the rest of the story.

If you're like me, you likely know more about European history and monarchs than Egyptian dynasties. You also likely know of the intrigue, politics, sex, murder, and other techniques necessary to obtain and hold your European rule. Again, if you're like me you are likely aghast at how you would always have to be watching your back during those times.

Well, Egypt was all of that PLUS incest. Literally, keep everything in the family. The women that ruled Egypt had to be mentally stronger and more cunning than any man. They were amazing rulers. Merneith, Neferusobek, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Tawosret, and Cleopatra all have my respect for the things they were able to achieve in terms of rising to power and what they did once they had power.

I don't want to include any spoilers but the epilogue was some real food for thought. It is entitled, why women should rule the world. The older I get, the more I think this may be a good idea. And, I'm not just saying that because I live in a household of all women :-)
Profile Image for Gia.
149 reviews12 followers
November 6, 2018

Oh wow, I did NOT like this book. It was pretentious, full of speculation and assumptions that seemed solely powered by the author’s POV. Others, I’m sure could argue that as a Egyptologist she delivered information about the selected women in this book with details. However, half the information were riddled off like fact sheets about the era these women held power—no facts about their unique ruling styles, specifics about why these picks were greater than others, no proof given to back up the claims about how (if/when) they were able to manipulate the position of power in their favor.

What’s more, she continued to run off on the notion that with each new dynasty the previous female pharaoh would have had he name whipped from history, so why continue to push the concept that the later female rules were likely inspired by the former if they technically “didn’t” exist? Skipping over the fact that she every chance she got to remind the reader of ancient Egypt’s ideologies and mythologies when it came to the decision of selecting a woman as king essentially by default because they were seen as less hostile, less likely to cause wars or be erratic aka complicit.

The author makes a point of tying in details and examples of our current political climate and the “lack” therefore of the female presence. Not to say that this point was entirely wrong but she choose to ONLY point out the failures when making this point or any point to be honest. Strategically leaving out positive women in power today in terms of politics ie reasons why Hillary Clinton did not win the past presidential election in regards to her appeal to the public based on how attractive she is and is not🙄.

Moreover, how this is some how connected to her time as the First Lady when she was seen (and in ways now) being seen as over stepping her bounds of what she is allowed to do and what she isn’t. And it gets better; the current First Lady seems to know her “place” because she spends her time redecorating??—— I can’t recall the full passage. I was rolling my eyes a lot here.

However, my point being, need we forgot the eight years the Obamas were in office and the presence, influence and power they EACH held during that time?? I mean, I wasn’t the only one who dreamed that right?? OR the 70+ women running in the 2018 Midterm elections across the country!!? I wanted to like this book so much but why??

Why take such a CIS, cynical, impersonal, allusive, and disappointing stance with this book? If I were to recommend this book to anyone it would be a straight, white male 🤷🏾‍♀️. My full review on this book will be up later this week.

These notes are just the ones freshest in my mind after finishing this book, so I tried to be objective but uggh it was difficult.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Maria.
669 reviews45 followers
January 1, 2022
I wanted to fall in love with this, I did, but anytime the author grabbed my attention with the history, she would thrown in current events of the time in which this book was written to try to highlight a point that she was trying to make.

In some cases I could see what she meant and in others, it felt more as if the author was driving her opinion on to the book which changed the flow of the paragraph for me.

Overall, I enjoyed how this book highlighted these six women, provided their backgrounds and story, even if it was still unclear as Egyptologists are still uncovering more so I'm very intrigued by what the book provided as a starting point of interest.
I do wish that some of what was mentioned in the footnotes were actually part of the book as it could have helped highlight certain moments as to why there is uncertainty within the community as to what were the events that lead certain moments to be written as such.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,078 reviews108 followers
January 3, 2022
This is a non-fic about six major women pharaoh of Egypt, with constant reminders that their society gave more power to women than the author’s USA does now (and it regularly mentions Hillary Clinton, 6 times in the intro, which seems fine and six more in the chapters regarding Egypt’s queens). I read it as a part of monthly reading for December 2021 at Non Fiction Book Club group.

The book cover personal stories of six Egypt famous rulers, both households’ names like Cleopatra and Nefertiti and less known ones, at least for me. It stresses that in Egypt women where able to rule, usually as a front to their underage son, but in times on equal with their husbands. I fully agree that across the world even now it is much harder for a woman to be elected than a man, and it has been much more so in the even recent past. However, the book states that female rule was not only permitted, but required, but gives zero quantitative figures about what % of rulers of the Nile culture that survived for almost 4,000 years; it is not even clear whether there were other queens beside these six, which for 4 thousand years is not that much – in Europe in the last century, women headed the states from the UK to Germany, so stressing US-only experience is strange at least.

The first queen in the book is Merneith of the first dynasty (3000–2890 B.C.), who ruled for her son but to say the truth our knowledge about her is quite limited, only that she was selected by elites as a safe choice in the Egypt’s first documented succession crisis. She rules 6-8 years till her son come of age and some time later was buried in a kingly tomb, with sacrifices lie earlier male kings.
The second queen is Neferusobek of the dynasty 12 and who was a victim of incest marriages practiced by Egyptians, the last of her line. She was a sister-wife of Amenemhat IV and ruled for less than 4 years. She is the earliest queen associated with the crocodile god Sobek and the first to take the full royal regalia and image, i.e. equal to male pharaoh.

The third queen in the book is Hatshepsut of Dynasty 18 (1550–1295 B.C.). To maintain her power in her new role as king, Hatshepsut worked with her priests to create some radical new manifestations of divine will. She ruled well but quite short and is more known by the fact that her successor (the next king was not her son) tried to erase her, her cartouches and images were chiseled off some stone walls, leaving very obvious Hatshepsut-shaped gaps in the artwork.

The fourth queen is Nefertiti of Dynasty 18 (1550 to 1295 B.C.), one of more known ones. Her husband Amenhotep lV started a massive religious reform, destroying old temples and setting a new religion. Has she ruled after him is still debated, but if she did, she helped to heal wounds her husband made

The fifth queen is Tawosret, the last pharaoh of Dynasty 19 (1191–1189 B. C.). She might represent that one unique instance of an Egyptian queen who decided not only to seize power by force but also to refuse to share that power with any male partner. Which ended ion a civil waR.

The final sixth queen is Cleopatra, the only woman in the book who has expanded her dynasty using her own procreative abilities, placing herself at the center of the wheel of power as the producer of future kings. She is the only one to attempt—and accomplish (in the short term, anyway)—succession via her own children, as a man would. We know more of her from Roman, not Egyptian sources and they were written to denigrate her, who was the mother of Caesar’s son and two more of Antony. Cleopatra was a master tactician who understood how to manipulate her relationships to the benefit of her ambitions and of Egypt.

I consider this book rather weak as a historic overview, it stressed current issues and made several questionable claims about ancient Egypt in general, like: “A country protected by expansive deserts, stormy seas, and Nile cataracts, it was not threatened by constant invasions and massive changes of population, allowing the same religion, social structure, culture, and language to flourish and develop... The result was an extraordinarily risk-averse society with few regicides or coups. Egypt would always be different from any other state in the Mediterranean, North Africa, or the Near East because its unique geography and topography forged the most perfect and stable divine kingship the world has ever known.” This negates periods of good and bad Nile, forgets Egypt’s imperial conquests or sharp changes in religious doctrine.
Profile Image for ~Dani~ .
312 reviews53 followers
November 29, 2018
Read this review and more at Book Geeks Uncompromised!

When Women Ruled the World is a great look at the rise to power of six women in Ancient Egypt. One of the things that have fascinated me about Ancient Egypt is the culture’s relationship and treatment of women. While still very much a patriarchal society, Egyptian women had more rights than their contemporaries in other parts of the world. They had the right to own property and the right to a divorce; things women in most of the world would not dream of being able to have and do.

Unfortunately, the records for a lot of the time periods involved are so vague and inscriptions have been struck through and marked over so many times in some cases that a lot of what is known is conjecture and generalizations. Because of this, there are a lot of “maybes” and “perhaps” in telling the story of individuals from thousands of years ago. This did get a little tiring to read at time but ultimately it is just part of the nature of the topic.

One of the things that Cooney generalizes fairly frequently is that women were needed at specific points in history for their tendency to avoid risk and avoid fights. While obviously not every woman falls into that generalization, it makes sense that a woman taking a man’s place in a patriarchy must step carefully. Everything she touches must turn to gold or it would be her name stricken from the temples and tombs.

I felt like Cooney did a wonderful job at walking the reader through what life was life for these women and the circumstances that birthed their opportunities to rise to power. Many times the circumstances went back several generations and were quite complicated but I always felt like it was a story being told, reading about their lives never felt dry to me at all.

For someone like me that enjoys reading about ancient cultures but maybe doesn’t know too much about them, I think is a great place to start. It not only explores these six women but also touches on various facets of Ancient Egyptian culture in a way that is very engaging and easy to read.
Profile Image for Jessica Senn.
99 reviews26 followers
February 9, 2021
I thought the concept of this book was FABULOUS. I was excited to read it. Unfortunately, the author used little to no fact at all, indeed she relied mostly on supposition to push the general thesis of the book. (the amount of times she says "It's possible" or "she may have..." or frames a "fact" as a question "might she have?" and then just continues as though the statements are fact is astounding.) Truly, this would have been a fascinating historical fiction, but to call it anything even slightly resembling history is laughable. The actual historical facts and truths in this book would have only filled one chapter, two if I'm generous. Let's not even discuss the odd comparisons to modern women... It felt forced and contrived at best. I came away feeling like an Egyptologist wrote a book trying to prove, using ancient Egyptian history, that Hilary Clinton would have won the election if not for the patriarchy...
Profile Image for Gareth Russell.
Author 12 books184 followers
March 15, 2023
Given the lack of documentation on the six women, Dr Cooney is clear throughout this book when she is making guesses and her suppositions are always intelligently reasoned - and they are signposted. The chapter on Pharaoh Hatshepsut was a great companion to the superb biography by the same author, The Woman Who Would Be King.

I was less convinced by the sympathy shown in the chapter on Nefertiti, who is presented here as the heroic pharaoh who "had to clean up" her late husband Akhenaten's mess. However, Dr Cooney convincingly argues earlier in the chapter that Nefertiti was not simply a consort to "the heretic king" but co-pharaoh with him and then after him. That means she was co-author of his mess - and what a mess it was. Having shown that the Amarna period was one of chaos, economic disintegration, political megalomania and, quite likely, state-sanctioned terror, it felt as if Nefertiti was then let off very easily. She is presented as the person who 'fixed' Egypt after Akhenaten's death but, if she was as politically influential as the book argues, Nefertiti bears a very large portion of the blame for the abysmal government she and her husband inflicted upon the Egyptian people. She only attempted to fix things once the country was disintegrating around her.

In a sentence I did not have money on writing in 2023, I was surprised by how often Donald Trump was mentioned in a book about ancient Egyptian queens. Once would have been too often. In 2018, when this book was written, Trump popped up in many surprising conversations, where his relevance was not immediately apparent. I should note for fairness' sake that I am not an American citizen, so I cannot fairly comment on how these comparisons might read to an American readership. To me, the book's comparison of Egyptian monarchical policy to "the MAGA crowd" was jarring, as were the attempted connections between the elected American presidencies of 2016-2020 and the god-pharaohs in the age of pyramids.

The chapters here on queens Merneith and Tawosret are fascinating, especially the tomb of Merneith, which showcases a side of Egyptian history that even those who have read many books on the subject before may be surprised by.
Profile Image for Stefan.
166 reviews224 followers
January 26, 2019
Barely made the cut. First time I understand all those people here calling for that half star.
It's barely even 1.5 stars. I blame my gentle heart.
Profile Image for Annemiek.
61 reviews2 followers
March 29, 2022
DNF after third chapter

I found this writer because of her earlier book on an Egyptian queen and the great reviews it got. So when I read the synopsis of this one and saw word's like "female power" and "leadership today" I
thought this was a way to entice readers that usually would not pick up a pop-history book.
Then I read the introduction and was unhappily surprised by the comparison of ancient Egypt female rule and Hillary Clinton (I should have stopped reading there I suppose). Again I thought this was a method of the author to get a broader public interested in female heads of state in ancient times, but unfortunately you cannot escape the American politics throughout the whole book.

If you want to read about Egyptian queens I do not recommend this book. To me it seems like a Hillary Clinton supporter (who is by chance a Egyptologist) has written a book to vent on the outcome of the 2016 elections and to make weird assumptions based on little evidence about Egyptian female rule to support her ideas about female leaders today. If you want to read an more informative review here is a great one: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for honeybean.
364 reviews6 followers
December 30, 2018
Many of the facts in this book are presented as being wishy-washy in some parts, and then somewhat absolute in other parts (i.e. in "Neferusobek" states Amenemhat IV and Neferusobek might have been siblings, and then goes on to state "when Amenemhat IV married his half-sister Neferusobek"...these unnecessary, un-clear titles were not needed. Cooney does mention the extreme difficulty of being an Egyptologist, but some of the research could have been more clearly explained. One part especially lends credit to another "well known Egyptologist" but didn't explain what differences to other ideologies there may be within research.

This book was also unnecessarily charged with American politics. Even with my thoughts mirroring what was stated in this book (i.e. clear distaste of the Trump administration), it dates the book to this country and this time frame, and I honestly didn't really want to read anything so modernly politically charged when picking up a book about Egyptian female/genderqueer rulers. For being a National Geographic trademark book, if it were to be so politically charged, I would have liked to see more discussion about non-American politics.
Profile Image for Jaina.
116 reviews14 followers
November 11, 2021
I'm so disappointed.

I was really looking forward to this one, but it was published in 2018 and fixates so much on the 2016 election and the pre-pandemic political climate that it already seems dated in a bad, cheesy wall-to-wall carpeting in a bathroom kind of way.
1,585 reviews86 followers
January 6, 2022
Cooney, an Egyptologist, highlights 6 female rulers in ancient Egypt. She mines the limited archeological evidence to recreate their story. She argues that the unjust pressures against women in political leadership in the ancient world continues to hinder women today. I enjoyed learning about ancient figures with whom I was largely unfamiliar. I appreciated when she explained how things like burial chamber contents, titles in inscriptions or depictions on statues could lead scholars to certain conclusions. I was frustrated by the frequent speculation which was not substantiated. It is possible that these speculations are supported by the archeology, but this is not evident to a reader with no background in the field. I had no way to determine which were flights of the author’s imagination and which were grounded in the record. The periodic connections to contemporary female leaders came across as simply the pushing of an agenda. A statue depicting a female pharo wearing a male headdress was compared to female judges in traditional robes. An inscription linking a female pharo’ reign to her father was connected to a speech of Queen Elizabeth doing something similar. Older male pharos with juvenile consorts was linked to society’s acceptance of Trump’s bragging of his sexual exploits. And nearly every observation about ancient Egyptian female leaders was connected to Hilary Clinton. None of the contemporary examples were discussed, just named. For me, these undeveloped contemporary connections weakened the entire book. I found that I was reading more and more through a skeptical lens, wondering how much of the ancient story was being filtered by the author’s feminist outrage. 2.5 stars
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