The best books about ancient Egypt’s pharaohs

Who am I?

I’m an archaeologist by training and a journalist by profession. During my long career as a staff writer at National Geographic magazine, and now as a freelance Nat Geo book editor and author, I have often written about the ancient world and cultural heritage preservation. I was very lucky to be sent to Egypt on a number of occasions to write stories about sites and discoveries, and I have now come to specialize in Egyptology. I recently took an online course that taught me how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. I’m still in glyph kindergarten, but every new sign I learn is allowing me to better understand—and interpret—the culture of the pharaohs.


I wrote...

Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs: 100 Discoveries That Changed the World

By Ann R. Williams (editor),

Book cover of Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs: 100 Discoveries That Changed the World

What is my book about?

Archaeology is the key that unlocks our deepest history. Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs reveals the stories behind the most intriguing and impactful of those finds and showcases the people who first presented them to the world.

Blending high adventure with history, this book chronicles 100 astonishing archaeological discoveries dating from 50,000 million years ago until modern times. Each account in this book relies on firsthand reports from explorers, antiquarians, and scientists as they crack secret codes, evade looters and political suppression, fall in love, commit a litany of blunders, and uncover ancient curses. Spanning six continents, this enlightening narrative tells the story of human civilization.

The books I picked & why

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Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (The Chronicles Series)

By Peter A. Clayton,

Book cover of Chronicle of the Pharaohs: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers and Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (The Chronicles Series)

Why this book?

The history of ancient Egypt spans more than 3,000 years. That’s a lot to keep track of!

This book is a great guide, breaking it all down dynasty by dynasty and reign by reign. 

Want to know what the Old Kingdom was about? It’s in here.

Want to know all of King Tut’s names? They’re in here too, spelled out for modern readers and drawn in hieroglyphs as well.

I’ve been studying and writing about ancient Egypt for decades now, and I still need a cheat sheet from time to time. Chronicle of the Pharaohs is one of my go-to reference books and sits on a shelf close at hand in my office.


Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt

By John Baines, Jaromir Malek,

Book cover of Cultural Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Why this book?

The dates that Egyptologists use for most rulers are guesstimates, and there’s not one fixed dating scheme.

Just for instance, one reference volume gives 1334-1325 B.C. as the dates for King Tut’s reign. Another says 1332-1322 B.C. And yet a third another has 1336-1327 B.C.

How do you know which one to believe?

During the three decades I worked as a staff writer at National Geographic magazine, we relied on the king list that Baines and Malek published in this book.

I still consider it as the last word on dates for my own research. It’s also full of very helpful maps, diagrams, and descriptions of archaeological sites all over Egypt.


The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt

By Ian Shaw, Paul Nicholson,

Book cover of The British Museum Dictionary of Ancient Egypt

Why this book?

Want to know about magic bricks? You can look them up in this book, along with a lot of other intriguing things.

Sure, you can find descriptions online. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there in the e-sphere. It’s much better to rely on something published by the august British Museum, which has been showcasing artifacts from the ancient world since 1753. I always do.


The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue

By Mohamed Saleh, Hourig Sourouzian, Jurgen Liepe (photographer)

Book cover of The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue

Why this book?

I bought this catalogue many years ago in the crowded, chaotic store that used to sell books just inside the front door of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

It remains one of the best sources for descriptions of artifacts displayed in the museum for many decades—everything from King Tut’s gold mask to lifelike statues of scribes, detailed models of boats, and illustrated passages from the Book of the Dead on sheets of papyrus.

Many of these artifacts have recently been transferred to the new Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) and other state-of-the-art facilities. I’m going to have to start noting in this book where my favorite things have ended up.


The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (King Tut)

By Nicholas Reeves,

Book cover of The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (King Tut)

Why this book?

The discovery of King Tut’s tomb is still one of the most extraordinary events in the entire history of archaeology. It was an almost intact royal burial from a time when Egypt was at one of its peaks of power, wealth, and influence.

The find was big news in 1922, and the eye-popping artifacts it contained would influence modern art, architecture, and fashion for years as archaeologist Howard Carter catalogued Tut’s personal effects and carefully removed them from the stone-cut funerary chambers.

Nicholas Reeves details the search for the tomb, the men who were engaged in it, and the triumphant moment of discovery. He also describes some of the 5,000 things meant for Tut’s use in the afterlife, from furniture and food to clean sets of linen underwear.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in ancient Egypt, Egypt, and the pharaohs?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about ancient Egypt, Egypt, and the pharaohs.

Ancient Egypt Explore 63 books about ancient Egypt
Egypt Explore 104 books about Egypt
The Pharaohs Explore 17 books about the pharaohs

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Penguin Historical Atlas of Ancient Egypt, Ancient Egypt, and Reflections of Osiris if you like this list.