Saturday, November 7, 2015

Review: The Woman Who Would be King by Kara Cooney

Kara Cooney's brilliant biography of Hatshepsut, an ancient Egyptian woman who became pharaoh in a highly patriarchal society, is newly out in paperback.  As such, it would be a perfect book for a book club.  It is, of course, a fascinating look into ancient history, culture, and politics.  If you are interested in ancient society, this is an excellent and engrossing account of a relatively little known part of ancient history.  But it is more than that.  As an account of the life and times of a female pharaoh, one would expect this book to be pretty interesting.  But Cooney makes this a book that is about more than one woman.  It is also an excellent insight into female rulership and how one woman dealt with the rules and values associated with a type of leadership that had always been assumed to be male.  Cooney is a professor of history at UCLA, and she therefore clearly has the academic chops to do the research and analyze this figure.  Her research is certainly trustworthy.  But that does not mean this is a dry recounting of events.  Cooney is that rare type of academic--one who is an engaging writer.  To be fair, most academics are not writing for a popular audience, and Cooney clearly is.  This is therefore not the definitive work on Hatshepsut for a researcher or student, but it is a wonderful introduction to and analysis of a fascinating figure in history for the general reader.  This book is along the lines of books like those of Amanda Foreman (who blurbed the book and is the author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire) and Stacy Schiff, author of a similar type of book on Cleopatra, and more recently, one on the Salem Witch Trials.  All of these well-written and entertaining books make a very welcome and indeed long overdue contribution to the general knowledge and interest in women in western (and Near Eastern) history.  Cooney's book is a great addition to this group of books.

(I received this book in exchange for an honest review for Blogging for Books)

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