Author: Kara Cooney
Source: from publisher for review
Summary: It’s hard to summarize how bad this was, full of sexism; poorly supported conclusions; and weird references to modern times.
This is a history of six women who ruled ancient Egypt. I expected to really enjoy this, having given the author’s first book (The Woman Who Would Be King) five stars. I also hate to say bad things about a book that a tour company was kind enough to send me. Unfortunately, the honest truth is that this was really bad. It’s almost impressive how the author managed to both beat the reader over the head with a feminist message and be incredibly sexist at the same time.
The one positive quality that carried over from the author’s previous book is that she managed to write engaging stories without glossing over uncertainty in the historical record. I appreciate that. On the less positive side, a lot of the uncertainties were left for footnotes. This is problematic because anyone who doesn’t read the footnotes will be left to simply believe the author’s narrative reconstruction is the truth. This book also felt lighter than the previous one, perhaps because there were so many uncertainties. She’s also covering six women in one book, instead of just one.
OK, back to the most problematic parts of this book. On numerous occasions, the author states that ‘women rule differently from men’, endorsing outdated, gender essentialist ideas about men and women. She constantly refers back to stereotypes as though they are true and have useful explanatory power. There are so many examples of this, I don’t even know where to begin. She also constantly compares the way women were treated in ancient Egypt to modern times. In many cases, I felt she was projecting current views onto ancient Egyptians without sufficient evidence. In every case, the references to current events felt jarring and will quickly date the book. Some of these references to current events include lectures about modern politics that only tangentially related to her point. For example, to demonstrate that people don’t always act in their long term best interest, she treats us to a paragraph-long diatribe about global warming.
Basically, this whole book feels like the author just has an ax to grind. She’s decided to focus on six women about whom very little is known. That doesn’t make for a great story. She’s just used them as a springboard to lecture us about how men and women are different; how women should probably be in charge because of those differences; and how women are still experiencing sexism today. The connections she makes between these women and modern figures are poorly supported, relying on insufficient evidence from both time periods to support her claims. Honestly, I can’t imagine this book appealing to anyone, as the liberal politics are likely to annoy conservatives and the sexism is likely to annoy liberals. I’m incredibly disappointed that this was the author’s follow up to a great debut.