The best books about ancient Egypt based on fact not fiction

Joann Fletcher Author Of The Story of Egypt
By Joann Fletcher

Who am I?

Having studied ancient Egypt her entire life, Professor Joann Fletcher is based in the Department of Archaeology at the University of York. As a founding member of the university’s Mummy Research Group, she is also Lead Ambassador for the Egypt Exploration Society and an advisor to museums around the UK. Her numerous publications include The Search for Nefertiti, Cleopatra the Great, and The Story of Egypt, academic papers, and regular contributions to the BBC's History magazine. She also makes frequent appearances on radio and television. Although it’s incredibly difficult to pick just 5 books that best encapsulate ‘Ancient Egypt’ in its broadest sense, it’s important to start with those which are as informative and accurate as possible when many can be quite the opposite! 

I wrote...

The Story of Egypt

By Joann Fletcher,

Book cover of The Story of Egypt

What is my book about?

The book covers Egypt’s ancient history, from its major events and key sites to the people themselves. By looking at both the pharaohs and their subjects, it reveals how these men and women created this spectacular culture which still influences our modern world. It also features new discoveries, some of which I’ve been involved with over the last thirty years or more, including the true beginnings of mummification, Tutankhamen’s clothing, and the women who ruled as pharaohs (as also highlighted in two of my previous books The Search for Nefertiti and Cleopatra the Great).

Ultimately The Story of Egypt is based on my life-long passion for the subject, and my genuine desire to bring the ancient Egyptians ‘back to life’ as it were.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Why did I love this book?

I’m recommending this 1st book because it really is the perfect introduction to ancient Egypt and its unique landscape. Its accessible format features excellent maps which each have a theme to best explain the way Egypt’s distinct environment directly influenced its culture, its history, and its relationship with the rest of the ancient world.

By Bill Manley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From its humble origins as a cluster of rival chiefdoms along the banks of the Nile, ancient Egypt rose to become one of the most advanced civilizations of its time. This atlas traces its turbulent history and remarkable cultural development, from the founding of Memphis around 5000 BC, through the territorial expansion and flourishing trade of the 'age of empire', to Greek domination and ultimate collapse. Political rivalries are charted through the successive dynasties, from the strife of the intermediate periods to the golden ages of prosperity and artistic glory under Akhenaten, Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. The latest archaeological evidence…

Book cover of The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt

Why did I love this book?

Even though this book has been around for a while, it really can’t be beaten for the sheer number of easy-to-find, reliable facts complete with a very useful bibliography for each entry (the paperback edition being especially useful when travelling).

By Ian Shaw, Paul Nicholson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This successful and highly-esteemed British Museum reference work is now republished in a new pocket-sized edition. This authoritative illustrated dictionary provides clear explanations and descriptions of the important ideas, events and personalities throughout four thousand years of Egyptian civilization. More than 600 extensively cross-referenced and comprehensively-indexed A-Z entries provide detailed information on all aspects of ancient Egypt and Nubia during the pharaonic and Graeco-Roman periods. Each entry is followed by a bibliography. The dictionary is lavishly illustrated throughout with photographs, line drawings, site plans and maps.

Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries

By Nicholas Reeves, C.N. Reeves,

Book cover of Ancient Egypt: The Great Discoveries

Why did I love this book?

This book covers the great Egyptological discoveries made up to the end of the C.20th. Perfectly combining Nick Reeves’ authoritative text with lavish illustrations, it manages to create a real sense of adventure while showing how Egyptology developed as a subject, explaining why we know what we know about ancient Egypt – and what we don’t!

By Nicholas Reeves, C.N. Reeves,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is the story of Ancient Egypt as it was revealed to the world - a succession of discoveries and treasures. The book provides a trip through the golden ages of archeaology in Egypt, from the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 to the Golden Mummies in 1999. The discoveries are presented through archival images and extracts from notebooks, diaries and published accounts of excavators. Some finds are world famous, such as Nefertari's tomb and King Khufu's royal boats, others are less well known and they include the Ferlini treasure with its cache of gold and the jewels of…

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

Why did I love this book?

Again, another book I can read time and time again. So although there are many general histories of Egypt’s ancient past, Toby Wilkinson explains so much that others can often fail to mention, his detailed yet highly readable text containing some real gems of information.

By Toby Wilkinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a story studded with extraordinary achievements and historic moments, from the building of the pyramids and the conquest of Nubia, through Akhenaten's religious revolution, the power and beauty of Nefertiti, the glory of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, and the ruthlessness of Ramesses, to Alexander the Great's invasion, and Cleopatra's fatal entanglement with Rome.

As the world's first nation-state, the history of Ancient Egypt is above all the story of the attempt to unite a disparate realm and defend it against hostile forces from within and without. Combining grand narrative sweep with detailed knowledge of hieroglyphs and the iconography of…

Book cover of Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt

Why did I love this book?

Although this is a slim volume, it’s packed with fascinating details about some of the biggest names in Egyptian history from pharaohs male and female to brilliant architects and disgruntled farmers. And since John Ray has that rare gift of combining academic rigor with an entertaining way of writing, he really does bring these ancient people to life.

By John Ray,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reflections of Osiris as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spanning more than two millennia, Reflections of Osiris opens a small window into a timeless world, capturing the flavor of life in ancient Egypt through vivid profiles of eleven actual people and the god Osiris. Some of the figures profiled here are famous. Ray discusses Imhotep, whom he calls "Egypt's Leonardo"-the royal architect of the Step Pyramid, high priest of the sun cult, and a man of great medical skill. We meet Hatshepsut, a rare female Pharaoh, who had herself depicted as a male figure in temple scenes, ceremonial beard and all. Horemheb, who rose from local politician to general…

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