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A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  129 ratings  ·  32 reviews
A thrilling history of the West’s scramble for the riches of ancient Egypt by the foremost Egyptologist of our time.

From the decipherment of hieroglyphics in 1822 to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon a hundred years later, the uncovering of Egypt’s ancient past took place in an atmosphere of grand adventure and international rivalry.

Hardcover, 528 pages
Published October 20th 2020 by W. W. Norton Company
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Literary Soirée
I am obsessed with stories of ancient Egypt and any reader like me will be captivated by A WORLD BENEATH THE SANDS. Thinking of pyramids, King Tut’s tomb, hieroglyphics, and the Nile Valley makes me swoon, which I did while devouring this glorious account. It reveals how worldwide adventurers endured cut-throat rivalries to unravel the region’s secrets and treasures.

Toby Wilkinson is a globally renown Egyptologist and also author of the New York Times best-selling The Rise and Fall of Ancient E
Anne Morgan
Oct 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
In A World Beneath the Sands Toby Wilkinson explores the beginnings of Egyptology. Starting with Napoleon's Egyptian campaign- which produced no successes for the French army, but widespread fascination with Egypt from the cultural point of view, and finding the famous Rosetta Stone- and stretching on for more than 100 years to Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, Wilkinson offers readers a meticulously well-researched account of European fascination with Egyp ...more
The Library Lady
As a die hard fan of Elizabeth Peters' epic Amelia Peabody saga it was interesting to read this history of Egyptology, especially the last sections where the historical characters who are on the stage in those books appear in real life. This is a bit dry, but vastly better written than most of the adult non-fiction I have read in recent years, faint praise though that may be, and I'm glad that I did read it, though I struggled to do so at times. ...more
Nov 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a history of the pillaging of Egyptian artifacts by the imperial European powers of the late 18th,19th and early 20th centuries. It focuses mostly on a chronology of powerful European nations and their adventurers/treasure hunters/archaeologists: who dug up what & where and where did the pilfered goods end up residing.

If you’re looking to learn something about ancient or 18th & 19th century Egyptian culture and history, I suggest looking elsewhere. This book focuses on the European
Dec 07, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: twenty-seven
Toby Wilkinson is a great storyteller, and the people and events he writes about come alive in this book.

That is just the fatal flaw of this book, however: “the people he writes about.” For the people about whom he writes share a delightful common characteristic. They are all Westerners.

The golden age of Egyptology was an age in which the West presumed that it could control, write, unearth, and wholly understand Egypt’s past. After all, Wilkinson cites Balfour unironically:

“We know the civilisat
Jan 07, 2021 rated it liked it
If your purpose in reading this book is purely about information gathering, you won’t be disappointed. Wilkinson gives us the stem-to-stern account of the Golden Age of Egyptology, and his research and analysis want for nothing.

Narratively though, this could have been better. While not as dry as, say, just reading a textbook, this is absolutely not the riveting brand of narrative nonfiction that I enjoy so much.

That fact is especially disappointing given that the subject matter lends itself so
Bill FromPA
Dec 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
There are three stories here, but Wilkinson tells only two of them: the Western archaeologists and scholars who in the course of a century (1822-1922) excavated and documented the history and culture of Ancient Egypt, and the concurrent growth of modern Egypt from an outpost of the Ottoman empire, through domination by France and England, to an independent nation. The missing story is that of Ancient Egypt itself, the history that was being pieced together over the century, which has evidently b ...more
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
100 years of the prime history of Egyptian archaeology from Champollion's deciphering in 1822 of hieroglyphics from the Rosetta stone to Howard Carter's 1922 opening of Tutankhamun's grave. Excellent review of the main actors in this drama. If you like this you will probably also like Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody's Egyptian mysteries series set also in this golden age of middle eastern archaeology. ...more
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written book about the history of Egyptology from Napoleon expedition to Egypt in 1798 to Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s death chamber in 1922. The author depicts the key angels and demons of the archeological discoveries in Egypt, masterly describes the rivalries between France and Great Britain for domination with later contributions to Egyptology from Germany and the US. The key facts and events are not presented in isolation but rather put in the perspective of 19th centur ...more
Fredrick Danysh
Oct 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: advance-read, history
A World Beneath Beneath the Sands presents a look at several artifacts from ancient Egypt. A history of their discovery and short discussions regarding the lives of the explorers who found and/or studied them is presented. The work is basically a history of academic efforts. This was a free review copy obtained through
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
“It is the business of the archaeologist to wake the dreaming dead: not to send the living to sleep.”
-Arthur Weigall, 1923

I think this quote sums up Wilkinson’s book. He does a great job delivering so much history in a way that is both interesting and compelling.

The book covers the study of Egyptology from the invasion of Napoleon all the way through the early 1900’s. It’s fascinating how hieroglyphics were deciphered, countries clashed over access to and removal of artifacts, and different wor
Oct 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
In A World Beneath the Sands, by Toby Wilkerson, we see the sordid, exciting, criminal, exhilarating history of the first 130-ish years of Egyptology. Wilkinson begins with Napoleon Bonaparte’s Egyptian expedition in 1798 and ends with Howard Carter’s opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. In that time period, Wilkinson takes us from days in which European knowledge of ancient Egypt was entirely informed by the bible and semi-accurate accounts from Greek and Roman historians to modern regulation ...more
Patrick Wikstrom
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
I was pumped up to get this book as a present. I love this stuff. I’ve studied and been to Egypt’s temples, tombs, and antiquities. I really wanted to like this book. It’s a thick book of 300 pages, narrowly spaced lines, small font, and a lot of words. Unfortunately not all of them were necessary. While certain sections like the discussion of the Rosetta Stone and the work to decipher hieroglyphics were interesting and had many new facts I hadn’t heard; and the final chapter with the discussion ...more
Dylan Burns
Oct 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It is surprising how often the exploration and the exploitation of Egypt’s ancient history comes down to imperialism and imperial prestige. The history of Egyptology, as presented by Wilkinson, traces the history of Great Power politics in the world. Want to show how important your state is to global intellectual culture? Send scientists to Egypt, found Egyptian exploration companies, find tombs and mummies. Each boom coincides with a different rise and fall of Western states. What I think it’s ...more
Mickey Hoffman
Jan 07, 2021 rated it liked it
The book covers the search and discovery of ancient Egyptian tombs, the concurrent events in Europe and political events that affected those who made the discoveries. There's a bit more detail in the political areas than I would have liked. Most of the biographical stuff about the characters involved is interesting, but sometimes more detail than I wanted. The author gives titles of books in the languages they were written without any translation into English which I found a bit frustrating as I ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a great peek into the world that Egyptians 3000 years ago lived in. Ancient Egypt is an easy place to be fascinated by: its rich history and complex cultural habits paired with colorful art and monumental construction feats make Ancient Egypt a place of awe. This book brings so much of that place to life for the reader that it’s hard to remember most of the world envisioned has been lost to the sands for thousands of years.
Patrick Murphy
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing
As the title indicates, this is a thorough study of the golden age of Egyptology. The author knows the field and weaves the story of Egyptian archaeology with that the development of Egypt itself.

My most important criticism of the book is the maps. There are just two at the beginning of the book and in the electronic version of the book they are virtually unreadable. The reader would be helped by more maps with greater detail.
Dec 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Of the ancient cultures, Egypt has the most admirers and fascination. People can't seem to get enough of it's history and mysteries. This book talks about Europeans race to claim it's treasures and explore it's histories. It's a great book to read and have, for everyone interested in Egyptian history, not just budding or professional Egyptologists. ...more
Jan 02, 2021 rated it liked it
A very entertaining (most of the time) and evocative read. Really conveyed the excitement of early Egyptian archaeology - at least for the Europeans. It feel a bit flat in places, likely because it was so European / American focused. All the same, it made me interested in learning much more about Egyptian archaeology!
Dec 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In reading this I was returning to my childhood love of Egyptology. It's a account of the European obsession with excavating (and despoiling) Egypt from the late eighteenth through the early 20th century. It bogs down some in the politics of who dominated the field (Germans, French or English), but it's still a great story (if that's the sort of thing you like). ...more
Oct 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A very readable book even for the nonspecialist. The author quotes Weigell, "It is the business of the archaeologist to wake the dreaming dead: not to send the living to sleep." This book did not make me a bit drowsy.

It is a well-structured tale of rivalry, exploitation, imperialism, dawning Egyptian nationalism, mixed with scholars making historical and artistic discoveries.
Edward Sullivan
A finely detailed, illuminating chronicle of the rise of Egyptology and the ruthless race between the British, French, Germans, and Americans to lay claim to ancient Egyptian mysteries and treasures.
Pete Dibenedetto
Dec 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Amazing about of history and in-depth detail. I found it a little overwhelming in those details at times and read more like a text book.
Dec 14, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020
abonded. not my thing right now.
George Squires
Nov 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved it. Not often you find a popular account of the history of the development of a subject, rather than the subject itself.
Clare Shepherd
Nov 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A well written history of Egyptology by an expert
He covers all the major and some figures. It's a great read.
David Steele
Nov 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
An impressive book about the European "discovery" of Egyptian civilization and how the Egyptians
discovered their own past and heritage in the process.
Dec 15, 2020 marked it as maybe
Recommended to Bettie by: Susanna - Censored by GoodReads
looks simply fab!
Roberta Willis
Nov 04, 2020 marked it as to-read
Very interesting and informative book. Love this author.
Mark L.
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spectacular and enlightening

A wonderful overview of a century of exploitation of Egypt by Europeans and Americans. Puts the players and what they did and why in context. Extremely well-written.
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Dr Toby Wilkinson joined the International Strategy Office in July 2011, working with the Pro Vice Chancellor (Jennifer Barnes) to support the schools, faculties and departments in their international engagements, and to develop the University's international strategy, particularly with regard to research collaborations and relationships with the EU, US, India and China. Prior to this, Dr Wilkinso ...more

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