The best books about the Nile river

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the Nile river and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Red Nile: The Biography of the World's Greatest River

Red Nile: The Biography of the World's Greatest River

By Robert Twigger,

Why this book?

Where I wrote The Black Nile as a white-knuckle current history of the Nile region, British polymath Robert Twigger took the long view to craft an absorbing portrait of the Nile, from Biblical times to the present. Twigger, whose adventures have taken him from the Canadian Rockies to Indonesian hill country to the karate dojo of the Tokyo riot police, has, with Red Nile, written a moving, cinematic masterpiece.

From the list:

The best books on the beauty and world of the river Nile

Book cover of Ô nuit, ô mes yeux: Le Caire / Beyrouth / Damas / Jérusalem

Ô nuit, ô mes yeux: Le Caire / Beyrouth / Damas / Jérusalem

By Lamia Ziadé,

Why this book?

Published in French or Arabic, this richly and attractively illustrated book dives headfirst into nostalgia for the nightlife of the 20th century Middle East. Loaded with short vignettes and stories, accompanied by Ziade’s own drawings, this book takes the reader on a tour of nightclubs in Cairo and across the wider Middle East. It is a beautiful, misty-eyed elegy for a lost age.

From the list:

The best books on popular culture along the Nile

Book cover of Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile

Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile

By Marjorie M. Fisher (editor), Peter Lacovara (editor), Salima Ikram (ed)

Why this book?

A beautiful coffee table book, complete with stunning photographs by Chester Higgins, this publication includes maps, general articles about Nubia, and a gazetteer of stunning sites from Gebel Qeili and Naqa in the south to Philae, Elephantine, and Aswan in the North. The general articles range from art and architecture, kings and kingship, religion, texts, and women in ancient Nubia. This book is a beautiful and welcoming introduction to the vibrant land of ancient Nubia.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Nubia

Book cover of Sacred Nile

Sacred Nile

By Chester HIggins, Betsy Kissam,

Why this book?

Can you tell I am a fan of Chester Higgins? This book traces the flow of the Sacred Nile from south to north, connecting the highlands of Ethiopia, the heartland of the kingdoms of Kush (Kerma, Napata, Meroe), and the better-known treasures of ancient Egypt. All of this is depicted in stunning photographs, while the cultural and historical connections between these lands that border the Nile are lovingly described as a spiritual connection to the waters of the sacred Nile.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Nubia

Book cover of Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850

Letters from Egypt: A Journey on the Nile, 1849-1850

By Florence Nightingale,

Why this book?

If you, like me, have imagined Florence Nightingale as selfless, holy, good, unworldly, prim, and therefore probably very dull, this collection of her letters from Egypt will completely dash that perception. Nightingale was ferocious. Purely by coincidence, she set off on a three-month cruise down the Nile during the same week as Gustave Flaubert. Though the two apparently never met in their travels, they had many of the same experiences and visited the same places within two or three days of each other. Of the two, Nightingale was in fact the more daring and the more acute in her observations…

From the list:

The best books on floating down the Nile

Book cover of An Egyptian Journal

An Egyptian Journal

By William Golding,

Why this book?

At the age of seventy-two, William Golding, British author of Lord of the Flies, set off on a trip down the Nile with his wife and an Egyptian guide. Golding had long had a burning passion for Egypt, stating that ". . . for the last sixty years I must have read every popular book ever written about Egypt." But as his journalistic observations illustrate, there was still so much more to be learned by personal experience. I love this book for Golding's wry, gentle sensibility, his cozy erudition, his intellectual warmth, his wisdom about life and interpersonal relationships…

From the list:

The best books on floating down the Nile

Book cover of Cairo: City of Sand

Cairo: City of Sand

By Maria Golia,

Why this book?

Maria Golia’s witty and discerning portrait is -- hands-down -- the best book on Cairo. Golia, the author of acclaimed works on jazz, natural history, photography, and a forthcoming history of tomb raiding (!), writes about the Nile’s megacity with tremendous empathy, erudition, and – after 35 years of living in Cairo – an insider’s nuanced eye. Packed with humor and irony, it’s a book that begs to be read aloud. As I prepare for my own return to Egypt after a decade away, Cairo: City of Sand is first on my list.

From the list:

The best books on the beauty and world of the river Nile

Book cover of Season of Migration to the North

Season of Migration to the North

By Tayeb Salih, Denys Johnson-Davies,

Why this book?

As much as I love Cairo, I am happiest on the Nile in Sudan, Egypt’s tumultuous, less-trammeled neighbor. It’s in Sudan, at Omdurman, where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet in a sturdy, 30-million-year-old marriage that birthed and has sustained both Egyptian and Sudanese civilization. Set in a Nile village in 1960s Sudan, Tayeb Salih’s classic novella is a wistful, affecting story of post-colonial exile that’s been compared with the works of Franz Fanon and Joseph Conrad. Season of Migration to the North is packed with references to Shakespeare, Islamic history, Arabic poetry, Freud, and contemporary fiction. You feel…

From the list:

The best books on the beauty and world of the river Nile

Book cover of The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume I: From the Pharaohs to the Fall of the Roman Empire

By David Bindman (editor), Henry Louis Gates (editor),

Why this book?

While this book is problematic in that it tries to posit ancient Egyptian art as “Western art”, it includes excellent articles by esteemed scholars of Egypt and Nubia as well as copious images of ancient art from the Nile Valley (Egypt and Nubia) and Greek and Roman art depicting Black people. Despite the incorrigible racism expressed in the Introduction, the scholarly articles included in the book are replete with detailed information about the Africans who lived along the Nile River.

From the list:

The best books on ancient Nubia

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