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Books

Book report: ‘The Nile’ A Journey Downriver Through Egypt's Past and Present

Saturday 18/November/2017 - 10:12 AM
Sada El Balad

A hypnotic journey in the company of one of the world's most acclaimed Egyptologists over the fabled river telling how the Nile continually brought life to an ancient civilization now dead and how it sustained its successors، now in tumult.

Renowned Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson leads us through space as much as time: from the river's mystical sources (the Blue Nile which rises in Ethiopia، and the White Nile coursing from majestic Lake Victoria); to Thebes، with its Valley of the Kings، Valley of the Queens، and Luxor Temple; the fertile Delta; Giza، home of the Great Pyramid، the sole surviving Wonder of the Ancient World; and finally، to the pulsating capital city of Cairo، where the Arab Spring erupted on the bridges over the Nile.

Along the way، he introduces us to mysterious and fabled characters-the gods، godlike pharaohs، emperors and empresses، who joined their fate to the Nile and gained immortality; the adventurers، archaeologists، and historians، who have all fallen under its spell.

With matchless erudition and storytelling skill، through a lens equal to both panoramas and close-ups، Wilkinson brings millennia of history into view.

Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Knopf; First Edition (June 10، 2014)
Language: English
Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches

-About the author-
Toby A. H. Wilkinson، was born in 1969، is an English Egyptologist and academic. He is the Head of the International Strategy Office at the University of Cambridge، a fellow of Clare College، Cambridge، and was previously a research fellow at Christ's College، Cambridge and Durham University. He was awarded the 2011 Hessell-Tiltman Prize.

Wilkinson read Egyptology at Downing College، University of Cambridge. He graduated with a first class Bachelor of Arts and was awarded the Thomas Mulvey Egyptology Prize. He completed his PhD at Christ's College، Cambridge in 1993.

-Washington post Book review-
In his engaging new book، “The Nile،” Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson explores the importance of that river to the myriad civilizations that have lived and died on its banks. The Nile is a life-giving force surrounded by inhospitable desert.

Before it was harnessed by dams، beginning at the end of the 19th century، the river’s annual inundations could bring both bountiful harvests and devastating famines.

It is no wonder that the Nile has inspired a variety of religious practices meant to appease mercurial deities، who had the power to control everything from flooding to crocodile attacks.

Ancient Egypt is a subject that tends to capture our imaginations from early childhood، but، as the author reminds us، the river has witnessed other epochs.

One of the charms of this book is that the narrative moves comfortably among different time periods. “Travelling no faster than the current itself،” Wilkinson writes، “you can witness every era of Egypt’s long history — pharaonic، Greek، Roman، Byzantine، Islamic، colonial and contemporary — unfold before your eyes like the petals of a water lily.”

While the historical focus is broad، this approach works nicely، with the author smoothly guiding us on our Nile journey as he tells stories from the past.

The trip begins with Aswan، where ancient Egyptians believed the Nile originated and “where its annual floodwaters first made their presence noisily felt as they rushed between the boulders and granite outcrops of the First Cataract.”

Wilkinson takes us through rural and desolate stretches of the country، past towns، tombs and crumbling ruins، finally ending up in the teeming metropolis of Cairo، where construction threatens to leave the famous Giza pyramids “marooned، a small island of antiquity in a sea of indiscriminate، uncontrolled، substandard development.”

Well-chosen vignettes illustrate the river’s human dimensions، as well as the often bizarre effects it has had on outsiders in the distant and recent past.

Throughout the book، Wilkinson describes evocative scenes of village life along the Nile’s more rural reaches.

There is little depth concerning contemporary life، however، and aside from one moving section about the persecution of Copts، we hear little of the struggles faced by the Nile’s current inhabitants. Yet if the history Wilkinson presents is any indication، the cycle continues: The wealthy continue construction projects to guarantee their immortality، at the expense of the vast majority of the country’s impoverished population. The wealth of the Nile، it seems، has never been spread democratically.

The book skirts recent events، briefly mentioning the revolution of 2011 and its aftermath، although the prevailing state of the Egyptian Museum is indicative of the country’s uncertain future. Amid minimal security and empty display cases، looted during the revolution، Our journey down the Nile ends on this pessimistic note، but with one certainty: that the river will remain، long after the passing of this most recent strife، continuing “to witness many more momentous events that will reverberate throughout the Nile Valley، the Middle East and the wider world.”

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