Nonfiction Review: Egyptomaniacs by Dr. Nicky Nielsen

Egyptomaniacs: How We Became Obsessed with Ancient Egypt

Author: Nicky Nielsen, Ph.D.

Published: November 19, 2020

Publisher: Pen and Sword History

Number of Pages: 224 pages

Format: eBook

Source: NetGalley

Egyptomaniacs is an in depth analysis of Ancient Egypt, both it’s discovery and the subsequent media frenzy and perceived mythology in the wake of said discovery.  The author, Dr. Nicky Nielsen, is an accomplished lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester and has published numerous works of academic research in this field.  The author breaks the book down into two larger sections:  one focusing on the ways in which Egypt has been studied from the Classical period to the Napoleonic Era.  Also featured is the rise of the Egyptian tourism industry and an in depth analysis of the ways in which fascist and nationalist regimes have used Egyptian symbolism and culture for their own devices.  The second portion of the books explores the ways that popular mythology about Egyptian culture have formed and propagated through the collective psyche.  The author writes at length about how ancient Egypt has been portrayed in popular culture, including several interesting pseudoscience theories about aliens.

A particularly poignant line from the introduction:

[Egypt] is and always has been a crossroads of ideas, trade, and exchange.  But perhaps more so than any other country on the planet, even the mention of its name in casual conversation will conjure up mental images and evoke emotions; the name speaks of the desert and crumbling limestone carvings, of the flow of the River Nile, of an ancient land, exotic, mystic, arcane.  These perceptions of Egypt have changed surprisingly little across the centuries; many can be traced from the Greeks to the Romans, to Renaissance scholars in Italy and to the first Egyptologists and the public they catered to.

‘You’re and Egyptologist? Then you know about the aliens, right?!’ [Introduction]. (2020). In N. NIELSEN (Author), EGYPTOMANIACS: How we became obsessed with ancient egypt (p. Xi). S.l.: PEN & SWORD HISTORY.

As a reader, I loved the Egypt that I saw in movies as a child.  I remember picking up an Eyewitness book on Egypt at my local library.  This book has re-shaped and re-formed my ideas about Egypt.  Of course, as I am now an adult, I understand that the Egypt I saw in popular culture was something that had been embellished and hyperbolized through the filter of mass media.  This is a must read for anyone who has an affinity for the ancient Egypt as depicted in pop culture.  Not only is it a fantastic, well written exploration of our obsession with Egypt, it is also a striking critique of pop culture through time.  The author’s analysis of the human obsession with an ancient culture can be applied to any subject that has been run through the mass media filter.  As a Texan, I understand that the Alamo is a symbol of hope for many, but it is also a mythologized point in our history that was not as glamorous as the movies make it out to be. 

Overall, I enjoyed the pacing and structure of this book as a nonfiction monograph.  I felt the writing style was conversational and easy to read, even for someone who is not prone to academic reading.  I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the topic it presents. 

I received a galley copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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