Book Reviews

Book Review: When Women Ruled the World

I have to admit it… I know pretty much nothing about Ancient Egypt. I find the time period itself extremely interesting, yet my knowledge on the subject is limited. So, I jumped at the chance to expand my horizons (in keeping with my New Year’s Reading Resolutions, might I add) with When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney.

The book covers what experts know about six women—Merneith, Neferusobek, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Tawosret, and Cleopatra—who became queens of an overtly patriarchal Egypt. I am familiar with some details about the life of Cleopatra and have heard mention of the name Nefertiti, but that’s about where my knowledge of Egyptian queens stops. This was one of my main reasons for choosing to read When Women Ruled the World—I was ready to learn!

It was lucky I was in a note-taking mood when I started to read, however, because this is a work of nonfiction created more to inform than to entertain. With that in mind, and accepting the fact that reading this book would be more like a lecture from a passionate UCLA professor than curling up with my favorite author’s latest murder mystery, I persevered. Once I got back into my college student mindset, the pages really started to turn.

Cooney’s writing style is—thankfully—not cold, hard, dry academia. It is informative and exceptionally well-researched, and it is written not for other Egyptologists and academics who are in the know, but for those who are interested in dipping their toes into the murky waters of Egyptian history. Despite the fact that a great deal of what we know about these women and the time period in which they lived is uncertain and largely speculative, the text is as clear and as straightforward as the facts will allow.

In addition, Cooney provides examples of the similarities between the political policies and traditions of Ancient Egypt and the present day, bringing a distant and complex society into a much more accessible and relatable context.

This book is a detailed lesson on women who stumbled into—and rose to— power in a society that was traditionally controlled by men. It is a commentary of the strength of female character in the face of adversity, and an inspiration to stay strong and show courage when it’s much easier to hide or cower in fear. If you’re looking to expand your world view and learn something new, then grab a notebook and pen and go back to a time When Women Ruled the World.

About When Women Ruled the World

Hardcover: 400 pages

Publisher:National Geographic (October 30, 2018)

This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra--women who ruled with real power--and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.

Female rulers are a rare phenomenon--but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power-brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today's world learn from its example?

Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages, and why we should care.

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US Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

About Kara Cooney

KARA COONEY is a professor of Egyptology at UCLA. Her academic work focuses on death preparations, afterlife beliefs, and gender studies. She has participated in digs with the Metropolitan Museum of New York at the Royal Pyramid complex of Senwosret III and the Theban Necropolis with Johns Hopkins University. She appeared as a lead expert in the popular Discovery Channel special The Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen, and is a recurring team member of the History Channel's Digging for the Truth. Her book The Woman Who Would Be King was published in 2014. Find out more about Kara at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

UK Purchase Links

Amazon | hive.co.uk

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