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Egyptomaniacs (ePub)

How We Became Obsessed with Ancient Egypt

Ancient History > Ancient Egypt & Egyptology Colour eBooks P&S History

By Dr Nicky Nielsen
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
File Size: 4.2 MB (.epub)
Illustrations: 15 colour illustrations
ISBN: 9781526754028
Published: 23rd June 2020


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The Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera declared during the 4th century BCE that the Egyptian civilization was unsurpassed in the arts and in good governance, surpassing even that of the Greeks. During the Renaissance, several ecclesiastical nobles, including the Borgia Pope Alexander VI claimed their descent from the Egyptian god Osiris. In the 1920s, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings prompted one of the first true media frenzies in history. For thousands of years, the Pharaonic culture has been a source of almost endless fascination and obsession. But to what extent is the popular view of ancient Egypt at all accurate? In Egyptomaniacs: How We Became Obsessed With Ancient Egypt, Egyptologist Dr Nicky Nielsen examines the popular view of Egypt as an exotic, esoteric, mystical culture obsessed with death and overflowing with mummies and pyramids. The book traces our obsession with ancient Egypt throughout history and methodically investigates, explains and strips away some of the most popular misconceptions about the Pharaohs and their civilization.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Ancient Egypt is certainly the most 'alien' of the Mediterranean civilisations. Certainly the most spectacular and the one that expressed itself in the way we modern Europeans least understand. But also for ancient Europeans, because the fascination with ancient Egypt goes back a long way. It must be said that the discoveries made during the now countless excavation campaigns, among which the tomb of Tutantkamon shines, and the resulting Tut-mania, have only amplified things.
Nielsen's essay is as accurate as it is deeply political in pointing the finger at the deep, systemic colonialism and racism that permeate the attitude of the essentially white academic world when it comes to Egyptian artefacts. It is extremely important to read it, perhaps before going to admire the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin, to realise that, like so many things in our Western world, we sit on a heritage derived from robbery.

NetGalley, Maria Grazia Beltrami

Featured in

Sussex Egyptology Society Newsletter 2022

Why do we love Ancient Egypt? This book does exactly what the sub title says, it teaches us how we became obsessed with Ancient Egypt! We start by jumping through Ancient Greek interpretations of Egypt, going over texts, plays, all of the things that made Egypt exotic. We learn of how Ancient Egypt actually influenced a lot of other cultures, how many had so much interest in the Egyptians.

We see how the press were involved in the publics lapping up of the curse of the Pharoah's tomb. How Hollywood shaped our understanding of Egypt. There are a lot of different directions that this book goes in to really show us how over the years we have all been obsessed with learning more about the Egyptians, how myths have been deflated and museums saw a surge in artefacts in the 19th century.

Honestly this book covers a lot! I really enjoyed that while the book was obviously all about Ancient Egypt, it took us through so many different things and time periods that actually there wasn't a moment when I was reading this book where I though god this is repetitive! I think any Egypt lover would love this book because we really get a glimpse into why for so many years so many of us have been fascinated with Egypt!

Read the full review here

Samantha Paris

In Egyptomaniacs, Nicky Nielson demonstrates the continuing relevance of Ancient Egypt in our world through examining how we came to know what we think we know about a culture that is at once alien and familiar.

Read the full review here

Beating Tsundoku

Review by Alan L. Jeffreys

Our current attitudes toward Egypt and its treasures, embedded in this historical ‘superiority’, are surgically examined in this excellent book... I think it should be required reading.

Newsletter of Egyptology Scotland

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I love this book! It's one of those little gems that pulls you in and then you can't put down. Ancient Egypt is a fascination for me, as it is for most people. Its mysterious, dramatic and it has elements of the supernatural weaving throughout it. Hollywood also loves ancient Egypt making great Films like the ‘Mummy’ franchise that pulls people like me in more. However, can you tell fact from fiction or a good Hollywood tale? can I?

Nielsen has provided us with a wonderful summary of what's real and what's not in an engaging read that also delves into where and how the fake stories came about and how they grew. From the aliens' theory to the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb this book doesn’t disappoint. It has I admit taken a slight shine off of the more fantastical tales of Ancient Egypt but if I’m honest, in my heart of hearts they were obviously false but it has not dampened my obsession for all things Ancient Egyptian.

I highly recommend this book to those obsessed with ancient Egypt, history lovers, and fans of a good tale.

NetGalley, Zoe Pollock

Someone wrote about my obsession!

Yes, I admit it. I’m one of them. Ever since the fifth grade and many months studying Egypt in all its facets – religion, agriculture, art, pyramids, I too have been obsessed. Who knew that social studies unit would spark an interest that hasn’t diminished at all. This read took that interest and offered reasons why that history, of a culture I’ve never experienced or visited, continues to fascinate me…

Offering insights into how Ancient Egypt has reached such mythical historical proportions was interesting and, despite railing against it, offered reasons why this ancient culture continues to fascinate myself and many others. Squashing some facts as fiction may have burst my bubble a little (who doesn’t want the romantic view if possible?) but I came away feeling I knew that history even better…

NetGalley, Diane Radtke

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I think it's the perfect book for anyone who's interested with Ancient Egypt and want to learn about the history of this fascination.
It's well written, well researched, interesting and informative.
It's highly recommended.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso

I have always been attracted to and fascinated by Ancient Egypt. In this superb book, Nicky Nielsen explains why we are so caught up in what happened in Ancient Egypt.

Books Monthly

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was a fascinating history on the obsession amongst Americans on Ancient Egypt. Dr. Nielsen tackles what interests Americans about Ancient Egypt based on the myths of Egypt and the accounts by those who have worked in the area. This is absolutely something new that I am certain has not been covered in both academic circles and the popular history arena.

NetGalley, Dylan Simon

This book is a beautiful discovery, cleverly and pleasantly written!

Read the full Italian review here

On The Old Barbed Wire

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Loved this book a lot I was so invested in this book that I finished it in one day even though it's non fiction I enjoyed every single page of it.

NetGalley, Anjedah Shamim

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There's no doubt about it: We ARE obsessed with Ancient Egypt! "Egyptomaniacs", for me, has made that obsession grow. This is a clearly written book that was a pleasure to read. I suspect it feels like a much "lighter" read than it actually is, as I seem to have come away knowing a lot more than I did - without feeling like my head has been packed full. I still can't pinpoint exactly what it was that sparked my imagination and kept the embers burning, but I think that might be the point. This is definitely a book that an Ancient Egyptian enthusiast should have in their collection.

NetGalley, Dawn Lewis

Ever since I was a kid, I was obsessed with Egypt. I found it absolutely fascinating. Don't remember how or why I got so interested, but I did. Seeing this book available on Netgalley made me request it immediately because I knew I'd love it. It takes you through the history of our obsession with Egypt and all the things currently going on. I especially loved the chapter on Ancient Aliens and the author's rebuttle to pseudoarchaeology. Absolutely fascinating book I'd like to own!

NetGalley, Caidyn Young

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Love Egyptian history? Think you know it all? THINK AGAIN! This book was a fabulous read on Egypt and a lot of the misconceptions that we have built over time. If I was to break it all down, this review might never end!
I have loved Egyptian history for years. I found a book on Cleopatra when I was in 4th grade, and it has been a rabbit hole for me ever since! From Ramses II, to lost cities, the lost tomb of Alexander the Great, the mystery of the Sphinx, pyramids... well the list goes on!

Dr. Nielsen goes through and systematically explains, corrects, and describes Egypt in a way that will bring it to life, crush a few dreams (not really), and rebuild your love of Egypt with ease! Fabulous and fun - I could not get enough of this book!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

This book is written in a clear and concise style. The enjoyable sections cover a wider range of topics in our enduring fascination with the civilization of Ancient Egypt something that will only ratchet up with the 100th Anniversary of the 'Discovery' of King Tutankhamun's tomb.

>From the history of egpytology to the museum holdings this book looks at the issues now dominated by the decolonisation debates, it does so in a reasonably even handed way without being too preachy but will not sit easily with some.

Some interesting material covered in this book which will serve as another in the canon on Egyptology.

NetGalley, Peter Burnett

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Well-written and very readable. Egyptomaniacs is a fascinating and well-argued look at "How we became obsessed with Ancient Egypt." Written in two parts (part one - Investigating Ancient Egypt; part two - Inventing Ancient Egypt), the book explores the emotions, perceptions, and beliefs about Egypt (as the author clearly states in the prologue). I really enjoyed this book and, more importantly, am better informed about Ancient Egypt.

NetGalley, Janelle Hoos

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

For the longest time, I have enjoyed a fascination with Egypt. It may have started as a child, hearing Bible songs about asking Pharaoh to let the People go! Pyramids and camels may added to the appeal! Ancient Egypt is a mystical period in history full of unknowns and unreadable language. My love of art history and English filled me in on the confusing Roman and Persian periods with the Greeks mixed in! And then I discovered murder mystery novels set at the rise of British interest in Egypt and my love of Egypt-orientated works was fixed! Egyptomaniacs by Dr. Nicky Nielsen doesn’t disappoint and is a welcomed addition to my collection! It is full of amazing facts, hysterical myths and deep reflections on the job of work of modern Egyptologists have to do! I read it straight through!

The book sets out to “…chart this fascination from the sources of the ancient Egyptians themselves, to the writings of Greek and Roman authors, Arabic scholars and European travellers. It will examine popular tropes and misconceptions about ancient Egypt, many of which are still in vogue today, and identify their antecedents.“ and delivers on this and then some! It is broken into two parts.

Part one focuses on the history of ancient Egypt and how it has been perceived, pursued and reflected at different points in time. I loved the examination of the artistic representations in particular, it is so relevant to the current discussion on how we reflect diversity without prejudice. Whilst a serious discussion, the ironic tone at points had me laughing! I shan’t soon forget what I learnt!

Part two looks at modern day myths that have arisen around ancient Egypt and how they have been incorporated into pop culture. Dr Nicky Nielsen sums up the part for me with this quote:

“Fundamentally, it comes down to communication. If the scholarly community does not produce and make available good, scientific knowledge in a form and medium that is understandable, engaging and on platforms people enjoy engaging with, some will turn instead to the far bettermarketed pseudoscientific theories for explanation.”

>From “Egyptomaniacs” by Dr. Nicky Nielsen
It is applicable far beyond Egyptology and is so insightful as to how humans process story and facts. Reflections on the exclusion of the advances made in Egyptology by those in the East as well as the modern politics and perceptions of Egypt were delightful surprises.

Perhaps it is my perchance for Egypt or perhaps it’s the engaging writing but all in all, I loved this book! It is a five out of five on the enJOYment scale and highly recommended!

* A word of warning to my friends: I may spurt unexpected, interesting to me, Egyptian facts at anytime in our future conversations! I learnt far too much not to share!

NetGalley, Kelly Hodgkins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I've always been interested in the history of archaeology, so it seemed likely that Egyptomaniacs would be an ideal non-fiction book for me and I'm glad to say that turned out to be the case.

It's all about Egypt, as the title suggests, looking at how Egypt has been perceived by a wide variety of historians through from ancient times to the modern day, as well as how it has been portrayed in the media (focussing on either Cleopatra or rampaging mummies, for the most part). It finishes off with a look at why there is currently so much interest in the role of aliens as the builders of the pyramids, not to mention a few other issues around who created ancient artefacts and where they should end up when found.

It's an enjoyable read, well-paced and full of interest without being dry. I'd consider myself fairly well-read but there were definitely things I didn't know about before and I hope the author gets a chance to write more books in this line.

NetGalley, Graculus

I really enjoyed this book. I felt that Dr Nielsen gave wonderful walk through the history of the wests obsession with ancient Egypt. Looking at the Egyptian culture as the ultimate "other" also shined light on how the west also looks at cultures and picks and chooses what it wants to believe. The book was an easy and fun read and not too overly scholarly for the casual historian like myself.

NetGalley, Dale Dewitt

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

To summarize, Nielsen has written a fascinating, well-written and rigorously researched book on Western reception of Ancient Egypt. He traces the complex history of our fascination with a culture that has made us dream and fantasize for millennia. Each chapter deals with a different topic, from Ancient Greece and Rome, on to the Middle Ages, followed by the 17th-19th century and ending with 20th and 21st centuries. From representations in literature, art and popular media to the political significance of monuments during colonialism, fascism and slavery up until “modern” conspiracy theories of aliens. In doing so, he clearly shows how some tropes have survived time and again and how current views of Ancient Egypt, be it from museological display and interpretation to conspiracy theories, are based on a long tradition of Orientalist, Eurocentric interpretation.
It is a phenomenal book with lots of information, yet incredibly well-written and accessible. It was honestly a joy to read because it was engaging, fun, critical, well-researched and witty. Nielsen states things very clearly and doesn’t shy away from naming things for what they are but also includes funny remarks and light humor that makes his reading not only more enjoyable but also breaks the sometimes-exhausting barrage of racist ideas.
I learned a lot reading it because despite the fact that I had analysed my own reasons for why I loved Ancient Egypt on my own (and also critically examined the colonialist and Orientalist aspect), Nielsen gave me historical context needed to fully understand the scope and impact. I have learned a lot and was thoroughly entertained.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in culture and especially in Ancient Egypt. It’s a marvelous book and it deserves all the attention.

NetGalley, Gretel Rot

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Egyptomaniacs is an in-depth analysis of Ancient Egypt, both it's discovery and the subsequent media frenzy and perceived mythology in the wake of said discovery. The author, Dr. Nicky Nielsen, is an accomplished lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Manchester and has published numerous works of academic research in this field. The author breaks the book down into two larger sections: one focusing on the ways in which Egypt has been studied from the Classical period to the Napoleonic Era. Also featured is the rise of the Egyptian tourism industry and an in-depth analysis of the ways in which fascist and nationalist regimes have used Egyptian symbolism and culture for their own devices. The second portion of the books explores the ways that popular mythology about Egyptian culture have formed and propagated through the collective psyche. The author writes at length about how ancient Egypt has been portrayed in popular culture, including several interesting pseudoscience theories about aliens.

As a reader, I loved the Egypt that I saw in movies as a child. I remember picking up an Eyewitness book on Egypt at my local library. This book has re-shaped and re-formed my ideas about Egypt. Of course, as I am now an adult, I understand that the Egypt I saw in popular culture was something that had been embellished and hyperbolized through the filter of mass media. This is a must-read for anyone who has an affinity for the ancient Egypt as depicted in pop culture. Not only is it a fantastic, well-written exploration of our obsession with Egypt, it is also a striking critique of pop culture through time. The author's analysis of the human obsession with an ancient culture can be applied to any subject that has been run through the mass media filter. As a Texan, I understand that the Alamo is a symbol of hope for many, but it is also a mythologized point in our history that was not as glamorous as the movies make it out to be.

Overall, I enjoyed the pacing and structure of this book as a nonfiction monograph. I felt the writing style was conversational and easy to read, even for someone who is not prone to academic reading. I would recommend this to anyone who is interested in the topic it presents.

NetGalley, Katie Perkins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

As someone who has loved Egypt since childhood, this book sparked intense interest. It did not disappoint. The details in the book create why we love ancient Egypt and how its mystery makes it one of the greatest stories in history.

NetGalley, Audi Nissen

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The book is pithy, with a light tone, but a serious intent. It pulls no punches and suffers no fools, and I love that kind of writing!... I loved this book and I commend it unreservedly

NetGalley, Ian Wood

About Dr Nicky Nielsen

Dr Nicky Nielsen is a Danish historian and Egyptologist who has written several books and articles about Ancient Egypt, the Roman Empire, Vikings and British naval history.

Howard Carter discovers the intact tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt

4th November 1922

Howard Carter discovers the intact tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in Egypt

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