The best books about ancient Egypt’s pharaohs

Ann R. Williams Author Of Lost Cities, Ancient Tombs: 100 Discoveries That Changed the World
By Ann R. Williams

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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.


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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.


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The Egyptian Museum Cairo: Official Catalogue

By Mohamed Saleh, Hourig Sourouzian, Jurgen Liepe

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.


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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.


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