cover image When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

Kara Cooney. National Geographic, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4262-1977-1

Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA, profiles six women who rose to power in ancient Egypt. The women most closely connected to the king played a central role and could, when circumstances demanded, become kings themselves. Some of the names (Nefertiti, Cleopatra) are familiar, but this book breaks from trends in studies of ancient Egypt by not focusing exclusively on death rites and funerary architecture. Cooney discusses the women’s leadership (“Merneith and Neferusobek selflessly took up authority only to mitigate disaster,” but the power-hungry Hatshepsut was the only one who “managed to transcend the crisis [she] had inherited and leave Egypt in better shape”) and speculates about what they must have experienced, including the habits and perspectives of the elite (Nefertiti was early in life “exposed to ancient Egyptian submission to authoritarian rule. She knew when to keep her mouth shut”). Attempting to draw parallels between the pharaohs and contemporary rock stars and politicians, Cooney occasionally asks too much of her narrative. But her stories of these remarkable women, who in flashes displayed “true, successful female power that tapped into the emotions of [their] people, that embraced multiple perspectives, that reached out in a spirit of reconciliation to those who had been expelled or cast out,” will enchant those wishing to imagine what ancient Egyptian court life was like. Illus. (Nov.)