Book Review: Egypt: A Short History by Robert L. Tignor

A trip to Egypt is a trip into the maw of history. While some travelers can be content skipping along the surface of a place — eating the food, chatting with locals — many of us love to know what lies beneath, how things came to be, where the names came from. Egypt’s story is a long story and so it might seem a bit tongue in cheek to read “A Short History.” Nevertheless, Robert Tignor gives us Egypt in a rather digestible nutshell, from pre-history through pharaohs, from the impact of Christianity and Islam to Napoleon and the post-British occupation leaders Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak.

One nice thing about this book is that it spends a little effort setting up the context. For example, when we reach the Ottoman Period, Tignor gives a couple of pages just on the origins of the Ottomans and their culture before returning to their rule in Egypt and the direct impact on the Egyptian state.

If you are looking for deeper coverage of Ancient Egypt, this may not be the book for you. But the overview of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms as well as specific histories and anecdotes of the major players – Ramses, Akhenaton, Hatshepsut, etc. – has got you covered. It will not replace a guide of the features of historical sites. Also, the book was published in 2010 and so the recent Arab Spring is not included (though one see how the modern history of Egypt influenced current events).

Chapter titles and section titles, as well as a good index, also make this a good quick reference if you are not reading it cover to cover while you are traveling.

Tignor taught history at Princeton for 46 years and has written other books on Egypt. His experiences there date back to longer than many of us have been alive. His style is accessible; you won’t need a degree in history, economics, or political science to read this. See the links below for both paper and Kindle versions:
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I am currently at work on a travel narrative based on a trip through Egypt and Syria, using material that wouldn’t have been relevant in The Yogurt Man Cometh. Follow this website to remain up to date on this and other travel stories and photo galleries.

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