cover image The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt

Kara Cooney. Crown, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-307-95676-7

The life of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s second female pharaoh, was replete with opulent living, complex royal bloodlines, and sexual energy; in short, the kind of drama that fuels Ancient Egypt’s enduring appeal. What it lacked, however, was comprehensive documentation—something UCLA Egyptologist Cooney offers in a narrative biography supplemented by scholarly hypotheses that attempt to flesh out the uncertainties. Groomed for an important role as a high priestess from birth, Hatshepsut, through a combination of good fortune and ruthless strategy, “scaled the mountain to kingship.” Her role ostensibly “decreed by nothing less than a divine revelation” is shrouded in mystery by a limited historical record concerned too frequently with the “supernatural mechanisms of divine authority.” The high points; of this ambitious project are to be found in Cooney’s keen sense for the visual elements of Hatshepsut’s gender-defying rule and expert inferences on the psychologies of Hatshepsut and her contemporaries. From Hatshepsut’s self-perception, political prowess, and lifestyle emerge an image of the “ultimate working mother” and a compelling insight into ancient gender roles. However, Cooney’s work will likely appeal most to already well-informed armchair Egyptologists, as unfamiliar nomenclature and the speculative tone can make this a difficult text for the casual reader. Agent: Marc Gerald. (Oct.)