Author: Kara Cooney
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads
Summary: The subject of this book was fascinating, even though the writing was sometimes a bit dry, and I loved how transparent the author was about her sources.
In ancient Egypt, royal women were expected to defend their family’s bloodline, marrying their brothers and producing royal heirs. Women might act as reagents for their young sons, but it was almost unheard of for them to rule in their own right. This biography tells the story of Hatshepsut, “the longest reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt” (source) and her rise to power. The author uses what little archaeological evidence remains to speculate about Hatshepsut’s feelings and to analyze the political maneuvering required for Hatshepsut to retain power in a traditionally male leadership role.
The Woman Who Would Be King was less narrative than most narrative nonfiction, but it’s also the best documented narrative nonfiction I’ve ever read. I actually enjoyed reading the endnotes almost as much as the story, because it was so fun to learn what different Egyptologists think and how archeological findings have been interpreted. It seemed as though the author fairly represented different interpretations of the data too, although without knowing the subject matter better myself, it’s hard to say. She definitely did an incredible job making it clear where she was speculating and including citations for everything else. The narrative style was a little dry, but the subject was so interesting, I didn’t mind at all.
The author did a great job getting inside the mind of Hatshepsut, making educated guesses about how she might have felt. She also shared the most fascinating (and sometimes most disgusting) details about daily life in ancient Egypt. I’ve been interested in ancient Egypt since middle school so this book was perfect for me. It’s also good if you’re looking for a feminist read, since the author includes some interesting discussions of older, more gender biased scholarship relating to Hatshepsut. I’d most highly recommend it to anyone who loves narrative nonfiction, especially those of you who share my desire to know for certain which bits are true, because this is one of the few books I’ve read which strikes he perfect balance between the kind of scholarship necessary for it to be clear which bits were true, while making enough educated guesses to be interesting to a general audience.