Barbara Mertz was an Egyptologist and author; in addition to this non-fiction entry she has a mystery series under the pen name Elizabeth Peters, featuring an intrepid female Egyptologist crime solver.
Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphics is a quick historical romp through ancient Egypt, beginning at the beginning (the first pharaoh, Narmer, he of the stone palette trumpeting the unification of upper and lower Egypt that is taken as the usual start of ancient Egyptian history), through to Egypt becoming a vassal Roman state (fall of the Ptolemy dynasty at Cleopatra’s death). I say romp as Mertz is a quick and delightful guide- she hones in on interesting details, bluntly but humorously tells you her opinion (Ramses II is real braggart), and glides through a lengthy historical period in a relatively slim volume (around 300 pages, as opposed to some of the 800+ pages of other histories I thumbed through).
In tandem with the history of ancient Egypt, Mertz also covers the history of Egyptology. From Napoleon and the continental Egyptology craze to the discovery of King Tut’s tomb, she gives a cheeky account of how ‘discovery’ works.
The most common criticisms on GoodReads are that this is light and/or scattered. Both of these things are true, and my defense of Mertz is that she is upfront about this book being a ‘popular history’ where she will focus mainly on the things that interest her. To that end, if you are looking for a detailed chronological progression, or something that would hold up as a reference for an academic paper, this is not it. I think there is room for both- those hefty, detailed academic tomes make for a harder introduction, so this book can serve as an entryway for just starting to learn about ancient Egypt.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this prior to my Egypt trip this spring- it really set the stage for the history we walked through. I’d like to go back and read the longer/deeper histories now that I have a more solid foundation (and a piqued interest to fill in the gaps of the many, many things we saw), but I’d really recommend this as an intro to ancient Egypt, both for anyone planning a trip and anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt.
Counting this one as the ‘Font’ square for cbr14bingo- Hieroglyphs are a beautiful written language, and Mertz is herself a font of wisdom on ancient Egypt.