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Thursday, February 11, 2016

Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney
Unabridged, 10 hr. 22 min.
Random House Audio
Kara Cooney (Narrator)
October 14, 2014

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Source: Personal purchase via Audible
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man's world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king's son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father's family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt's most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power--and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. "The Woman Who Would Be King" traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.
Egypt is one of those locales of which I inhale anything that I can find – be in fiction or non-fiction. Non-fiction that focuses on the royal women of Egypt is a rare sight indeed and I was excited to see The Woman Who Would Be King would be taking on the subject of Hatshepsut. She was such a fascinating woman who was one of the most powerful women of her age and I have been fascinated by how after her death it was attempted to erase her from history.

This book addresses both the life of Hatshepsut as well as the time and place around her. The setting was well brought to life and I learned so much about Egypt during the preceding reign as well as her own. However, my struggles came with regards to the discussion of the life of Hatshepsut, the part I was most interested in here. So much of her life is an unknown and that is part of the problem, albeit one that the author acknowledges. In her discussion of Hatshepsut’s life, so much that is presented is done so in the form of a question or in terms of speculation, worded such as “perhaps she did this” or “perhaps she thought that”. If that usage was merely sprinkled occasionally throughout the text I would not take issue with that, as of course there are things that may not be known, however, it is entirely overused here. Coming away from this book I felt that all I learned was even more speculation, and I was hoping for more. It also made for the text to be a little clunky as each “perhaps” stood out to me.

There was certainly great research done here into the time and place, it came to life, and if this was a book about Hatshepsut’s times, I wouldn’t have any issues with the book. It never felt like a book on Hatshepsut though.

★★★★ ½☆

This book is narrated by the author, which always leaves me a little hesitant as I have had good and bad experiences with self-narrated books. I can attest here that this was an occasion where the author did a great job with narrating her work. Based on her experience as an Egyptologist I fully believe her pronunciation of those difficult Egyptian names. Additionally, I thought that she pulled off a perfect pacing and cadence to her narration.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out listening to this excerpt of the book?

You can also watch the author speak about the book in the video below:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

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  1. I got this book from the library recently, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Thanks for the "push."


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