The Woman Who Would Be King

October 20, 2014 Biography, History, Narrative Non-Fiction, non-fiction, Review 18 ★★★★★

The Woman Who Would Be KingTitle: The Woman Who Would Be King
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.


18 Responses to “The Woman Who Would Be King”

    • DoingDewey

      She really is! I was surprised that the author seemed to think Hatshepsut was very unknown, but I thought she was a part of pop culture. Perhaps less than Tut and Cleopatra, but up there.

    • DoingDewey

      I love ancient Egypt too! I couldn’t say no to this book and it made me want to pick up more fiction and nonfiction in the same setting.

    • DoingDewey

      I also love reading about women in history! For a while, I felt like all the books about women in history were about women who were the wives of important men, so I”m enjoying seeing more books like this that focus on the women for themselves.

    • DoingDewey

      I feel kind of dorky about this, but one of the most important things to me about nonfiction is good documentation. I feel as though not knowing what parts of narrative nonfiction are true defeats the point of reading nonfiction. The documentation was definitely a strength of this book, especially since the footnotes were interesting enough to keep me actually checking the documentation all way through.

  1. Geoff W

    You have to stop making me want to read nonfiction! I do love narrative nonfiction, but my list is soooooo long. (I’ve read about Hatshepsut before, but this definitely sounds like a new take.)

    • DoingDewey

      Haha, I’m glad to hear that I’m adding nonfiction to your list! I wish more people would pick up more nonfiction. It’s really a fun genre 🙂

  2. Shannon @ River City Reading

    I have this set aside to read during Nonfiction November and I’m really excited about it. Even though I was a history major and teach bits of Egyptian history in my World History classes, I feel like we never dive into this as much as we should.

    • DoingDewey

      Awesome! I can’t wait to hear what you think.

      I was actually homeschooled from 2nd grade to 7th grade, so was able to study my interests a lot. One of the things we spent a lot of time on was the history of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt 🙂

  3. Leila @ LeilaReads

    I’m not big reader of nonfiction, but I love books about strong women, especially monarchs. I adore Elizabeth I (and II in her own way) and Victoria. And I just read a book (fiction) loosely based on Catherine the Great. I agree with you that it’s especially interesting to learn which parts of narrative nonfiction are true and which are not. I may check this one out.

    • DoingDewey

      I don’t think I’ve read books about any of the women you mention, but I really should! I like reading about strong women too and also enjoy learning about women in history.

  4. Elizabeth (Silver's Reviews)

    I normally do not read non-fiction, but this does sound fascinating.

    I always am curious about Egyptian society.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Stopping by from Carole’s Books You Loved November Edition. I am in the list as #5.

    My book entry is below.

    Silver’s Reviews
    My Book Entry

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