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Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist

3.52  ·  Rating details ·  241 ratings  ·  37 reviews
“Donald Ryan is a rare bird—a field archaeologist who can write with verve and immediacy. I heartily recommend his book to all Egyptology buffs.”
—Barbara Mertz ( a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters), author of Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs


A real-life “Indiana Jones,” Donald P. Ryan, Ph.D., offers a breathtaking personal account of his adventures in archaeology in Beneath the Sands
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published June 29th 2010 by William Morrow
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Average rating 3.52  · 
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Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
A pleasant, slight, rather self-indulgent memoir. There is no index, making it useless for research or reference. Ryan offers some interesting anecdotes about his personal experiences in the field, but I suspect most of the hard archaeological data can be found elsewhere. There are long digressions on Belzoni and excavator David Hogarth, and a sketch of the author's relationship with Thor Heyerdahl.

Minor but annoying errors (can HarperCollins not afford editors?) are scattered through the book,
Susan Ferguson
Nov 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook, 2020, adventure, memoir
Donald Ryan chronicles his career from his first interest in exploration and archeology to his first digs and his efforts to finally get his PhD so he could be in charge of a dig himself. He goes through some tombs in the Valley of the Kings that were discovered years earlier and been sealed back up. He checks the condition of the tombs and sees if anything was left from the earlier digs and if any damage has been done by the flooding of the Valley. He also finds a tomb that had disappeared unde ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it liked it
Donald Ryan wrote a fun yet sometime confusing biography of his professional archeological career.. This book gives a great historical background of archeological history in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, famous and no famous archeologists, practices and new scientific discoveries.

Dr. Ryan is a passionate and intelligent go getter that leans towards arrogance. His writing style is inviting but jumps around, as many biographys do. He also switches location from paragraph to paragraph leaving y
A very enjoyable memoir of an archaeologist. As the sub-title indicates he is an "unconventional" archaeologist and this book goes into some of the details of his unusual career path from rock-climbing into tomb-exploration in Egypt. The chapters dealing with his explorations in Egypt were (to me, anyway) the most interesting. His association with Thor Heyerdahl was quite interesting as well. The book made me want to learn more about the Valley of the Kings and the history of its exploration. Th ...more
Oct 04, 2017 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book. It had some interesting narrative and revealed a good deal about the actual physical work of archeology. However, this is mostly a somewhat self-indulgent memoir of an unusual scholar. He spent a lot of tie as a rock climber and guide, couldn’t get along at the U of Washington and wound up educated at some second rate places. In spite of that he worked hard and conscientiously on digs in Egypt and made some discoveries. He was tapped by BBC for a documentar ...more
Alek Zayas-Dorchak
Aug 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Taken on the grounds of an interesting little travelogue, I enjoyed reading this book. I did, and you might, too, if you enjoy travel writing. Having said that, most of the other reviewers are dead-on when they call it "self-indulgent." Donald P. Ryan does a lot of talking about Donald P. Ryan.
I picked it up expecting to learn about archaeology in Egypt, and I did, but not anywhere near as much as I learned about Donald's adventures vagabonding around Egypt. Not gonna lie, it gave me a lot of i
Apr 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to give this a higher rating, I really did, because there were a lot of really intriguing and interesting bits in it. I picked it up on a whim and overall it was rather a decent book. But, like many previous reviewers, I agreed that it seems like a LOT of bragging about how great this guy was, and how lucky he was etc. etc. I admittedly had to skim over a lot of those parts because they were honestly getting a little obnoxious and repetitive.

It was interesting to hear more about Belzon
John-Michael Lelievre
Feb 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little more auto-biographical than what I was expecting but none-the-less a solid read. I've always been fascinated with archaelogy and ancient Egypt, so reading something from the hands that have actually done it was entertaining for me. He even manages to make reading about rope engaging.

Recommended if you, like me are interested in Ancient Egyptian Archaeology
Pamela Tracy
Jun 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I enjoyed the book and would read another. I especially liked the details, the history of rope as well as the conditions of the tombs. I liked the asides, the odd lodgings and heat/travel. Some parts went on a big long (rope, loved it for half). There were parts that were alive - crawling through tombs and parts I wanted more on - Thor.
Jane Thompson
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

This is essentially an autobiography of an Egyptologist who has excavated many sites in the ancient country. I unfortunately do not possess the background or the knowledge to really appreciate this book, but some of it was interesting.
Natalie Lynner
Jul 29, 2018 rated it did not like it
I’m not interested in egyptologists. This book taught me that.
Jess Mutch
Mar 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-library
Made me fall in love with archeology all over again.
Beneath the Sands of Egypt is more than a memoir. It touches on Egyptian and archaeological history, highlighting pioneers in the industry and important finds already uncovered. Dr. Ryan also presents a cautionary tale about the field, the risks required to be successful, and the demanding physical and scholarly work required. Rather than becoming a lecture, Dr. Ryan presents his story with flair, highlighting the pros and cons of his chosen profession with an ardor that does not exist in most p ...more
G.A. Wilson
Nov 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
I read this book to help me with research, hoping it would give me further insight into an archaeologist's life while on a dig. The passages pertaining to expeditions were interesting and helpful, but became repetitive after a while. The book focused more on the courage and daring exploits of the author, which eventually began to irritate me as I'm not a fan of the egotistical.

I was a bit miffed by a section of the book which described the author's experience of filming a documentary with the B
The title of this book resonated with me greatly so I decided to buy the book and read it. I was not under any false ideas of the book's content as it was quite clear on the back cover "...the extraordinary story of a man who has always embraced adventure whenever - and wherever - he finds it." In case I may have still been confused about the books content, the front cover has the words"Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist". So for me, this meant that should the reader choose to, they c ...more

This book is part memoir, part travel book, and part history of archaeology; as such, it never really hits stride in any of its genres. The part I enjoyed most was the history of archaeology. I really liked his comments comparing today’s archaeological methods with that of the 18th and early 19th century and the stories of people like Belzoni, Howard Carter, etc. I also liked that Ryan found interest in the mundane and “leftover” bits of archaeology, such as his willingness to study how rope was
Oct 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Archaeology and Egyptology are subjects that I did not know much about but this book made me want to learn more. It is the account of episodes in the life of what appears to be a rather mundane archaeologist without any splashy finds or lurid tales to tell but it was written well enough to keep me interested. This was another of those books that I enjoy where the author found a good balance between telling the surface story and mixing in enough background information to give it some perspective ...more
Rebecca Huston
Feb 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This one turned out to be different than I had expected. It's more about Donald Ryan's life in archaeology than about Egypt as the title may imply. Don't let that steer you away from this book. It's good, and one that I recommend very much to anyone who is interested in the subject.

Longer review can be found here:
Dec 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Fun, fast read. Describes the hard scrabble life of an archaeologist as he scrambles to find funding for his next project. He is part wild child, part renaissance man. I was rooting for him all the way despite setbacks. He get some awesome opportunities, any one of which I would love to experience. And he is just crazy enough to keep the story interesting.
Jan 22, 2016 rated it liked it
I think this would be a great book for someone trying to map out a possible career in archaeology. I have long since moved past that dream, so it was a less effective treatment of the subject than I prefer at this moment in my life. I would recommend this book for others with a serious interest in the field, but not the general reader.
Katie Boggs
Sep 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
The subject matter was fascinating, but the writing was just too pedestrian to flow. Maybe I was too distracted by life, but it is rare for me to take as long to finish a book as I did! I had a hard time maintaining interest despite the superb content.
Mark Terry
Sep 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book a lot. In terms of my interest in archaeology I'm a bit more interested in the American Southwest, primarily Anasazi, but this was an engaging, entertaining, and educational book. Recommended. ...more
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Interesting life and adventures. He was not a smooth author, and I often wondered where on earth the rest of his family was (ah yes, for this I did not pursue archaeology) but he has led an interesting life.
Apr 25, 2011 rated it liked it
The author gets a little cheesy sometimes, often pointedly writing about his self-identified witty "one-liners" that he spouts to Egyptians, officials, etc. However, when he talks about his actual excavations, it is excellent. It is like I went to Egypt with my kooky college professor. ...more
Jul 22, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
i enjoyed this book. It is a memoir of an archeologist and Egyptologist. It provides a nice introduction to archeology and Egyptology. The author has a very readable style and has had a interesting life so far.
Brittany (UnderTheRadarBooks)
I have always been fascinated by archaeology so this memoir was very interesting to me. I loved the chapters about excavations and wished the entire book had been about them. I found some parts dry and a little boring but enjoying the author's point of view. ...more
Oct 08, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not bad overall. Had some interesting stories but really wasn't as fascinating as I had hoped. ...more
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ryan tells of his road to archaeology school and his many adventures as an Egyptologist.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was inspiring and uplifting! Absolutely one of THE best books I've ever read! ...more
Only vaguely interesting. Seemed more about the vast skills the author brought to archeology rather than about archaeology.. disappointing for me.
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You'll love this ...: June's Group Themed Read - Beneath the Sands of Egypt 8 52 Jul 02, 2012 09:05AM  

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