Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Books Read in May 2016

Hello all! Some of the craziness of life has died down a bit and so I plan to start using this blog again regularly. Starting with this post, I will once again give my thoughts on the books I read each month and I will also soon beginning reading the Great Books of the Western World again, a project that has come to a grinding halt in recent months.

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson

Technically, I read this book in April, but I thought I would include it since I haven't done one of these in quite a while. Ah, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt. I had mixed feelings on this book. On one hand, this book was packed with great information. Covering roughly 3,000 years of history, from the unification of Egypt by Narmer to the death of Cleopatra and the absorption of Egypt into the rising Roman Empire, this book gives a fairly detailed account on nearly all of Egypt's many rulers based on the sometimes limited information we have of them. Though on the other hand, the author has some habits that I found annoying at times. He sometimes uses too much conjecture without significant evidence to back up his claims. The most glaring example for me would be his portrayal of Akhenaten, the heretic pharaoh who rejected the traditional polytheistic Egyptian religion in favour of the monotheistic religion of Aten and a figure I've been fascinated by since high school. Wilkinson writes that Akhenaten's worship of Aten was really worship of his father, Amenhotep III, who was often portrayed as a sun king, and that the art produced during Akhenaten's reign was prone to exaggeration, producing the oddly shaped portraits and sculptures of Akhenaten. I have never heard it suggested that Akhenaten worshiped his father and I was always under the impression that art under Akhenaten, far from being exaggerated, emphasized realism and that the portraits of Akhenaten portrayed his actual deformities, where other Egyptian artists might gloss over another pharaoh's imperfections. He also sometimes spoke of situations in Ancient Egypt with anachronistic language that I sometimes found distracting. Also, be aware that this book is very tightly focused. This is a book about Ancient Egypt's political history, while its art, culture, religion etc. are pushed to the side. This isn't a complaint because a book covering this much material has to keep a tight focus, but be aware that additional books will be needed to gain a full picture of what Ancient Egypt was like. Despite its flaws, I think that The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt is still a worthwhile read because of the sheer scope and depth of information covered and I am happy to have it as part of my collection.

Prehistoric and Egyptian Medicine by Ian Dawson

This was a short children's book about the practice of medicine before Hippocrates turned it into a discipline based on empirical evidence and the treatment of natural causes. The author takes a sensitive approach, reminding the reader that early physicians used a combination of magical rituals and treatments based on trial and error and the observed efficacy of their use. Beyond the fact that I appreciated the authors respect for the intelligence of prehistoric and Egyptian people and that this short book was full of interesting bits of information, I don't have much to say on this one.

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