This is a long, dense and very interesting non-fiction collection of snippets of history, geology or curious anecdote (sometimes all three) that Twigger has pulled together, all of them related to the Nile. Of all the Egypt-related books that I’ve read this year (and there were many), this one and the Cleopatra biography are the ones I’ve recommended the most.
Twigger, who lived in Cairo at the time of writing (not sure if he left during the Arab Spring), set out to write a biography of the Nile river from source to delta. He organized his book into roughly chronological order, beginning with a geography section and finishing with the the Arab spring. While you might think of the Nile as an Egyptian river, he devotes equal time to the sections that flow through the African great lakes region (white Nile source), Ethiopia (blue Nile source) and Sudan (where the white and the blue come together). Not unsurprisingly for one of the world’s longest rivers, there is a heck of a lot of ground to cover, metaphorically and literally.
There were so many fascinating and wild trivia points that Twigger relates- I am still imagining the Mediterranean at the moment it became a sea (the Geography section) or the way the Sudd (from which Sudan draws its name) means swamp in Arabic or the massacre of the Mamluks in the back alleys of Cairo’s Citadel. Or all the European explorers, who tended to come from nothing (nothing to lose) or considerable privilege (could afford to lose). Or the detailed account of Sadat’s assassination!
My only critique is that there is so much material, and most of it so detailed, that it took me forever (I had to take breaks). I recommend this to anyone interested in ancient or modern Egypt, British or French history (they both go tromping through Egyptian territory and history), or really a long-range view of human history in one area (the Nile!). Just go slowly, and dip in and out into what interests you rather than approaching it like a meal that must be swallowed whole.