cover image Nile


Martha Holmes, Gavin Maxwell, Tim Scoones. BBC Books, $35 (168pp) ISBN 978-0-563-48713-5

This study of the world's longest river is also a journey through time and space, as the authors show how strongly interwoven the Nile is with the histories and beliefs of the people who live near it. Published in concert with a BBC/Discovery Channel series on the same topic, the book is a thorough and eye-pleasing introduction to the river. The first chapter tells the story of ancient Egypt as it relates to the Nile, describing how crucial the rich resources in the river basin were to the development of that civilization's agriculture, mythology and customs. A chapter on the yearly flooding takes the book to the river's southern and eastern reaches in Sudan and Ethiopia, which feature some of its most striking geography and animals (such as the semi-aquatic Sitatunga antelope and the flat-snouted lungfish). The longest chapter covers the searches for the Nile's source by determined but often unlucky British explorers, and potently evokes the attitudes and ideas dominant during Victorian colonization. The writing is textbook-dry, but the photos make up for this lack of color. Towering stalks of papyrus, a hideous, fierce vulture and aerial photos of the marshy valley bring the Nile to splendid life. Beautiful and informative, this book should satisfy anyone looking for a visual overview of this exotic locale. 100+ color photos, 7 maps.