The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt
by Kara Cooney
Expected publication: October 14th 2014 by Crown Publishing, Hardcover, 384 pages
As a lover of history, I was excited to receive this book; the fact that it deals with the life of only the second, mostly little known Female Pharaoh of Ancient Egypt, Hatshepsut was a big plus. As many who have reviewed The Woman Who Would be King have attested, Cleopatra is the main character that comes to mind when the issue of female rulers of Egypt are discussed. But Cleopatra was actually of the Greek Ptolemaic Bloodline, while Hatshepsut came 1,500 years before, ruling from 1472 to 1458 BCE. This is a time when the thought of a woman ruler was almost unheard of.
Also of note is the fact that aside from architectural evidence, there are little to no written records that chronicle the reign of Hatshepsut, as much was either not written, or was destroyed by her successors (men) after her rule ended. That said, Kara Cooney tries to fill in the blanks as best she can. I must say that much of her conjecture is based on logic, and for the most part, I believe what she has come up with can be viewed as a strong possibility, for lack of any better explanations. Being a scholar who deals in Ancient Egyptian Social History, Cooney is well versed in the religious, cultural and social life that Hatshepsut would have experienced, therefore, it does not seem like much of a stretch when she simply imagines what forces of the time may have come into play concerning the decisions and actions of Hatshepsut in her capacity as the King’s wife (as well as being his sister), and finally Pharaoh.
What I enjoyed most about this book is the knowledge of ancient Egyptian daily life that I have gained. The religious, civic and political atmosphere of the time is richly described in minute detail, giving me images of what normal, everyday life must have been like for the people of 18th dynasty Egypt. Kara Cooney offers a liberal amount of end notes and references, and is quick to announce when she is taking liberties as to what she imagines may have happened. For an ancient figure as obscure as Hatshepsut, Cooney’s biography adds real life to a figure that has up until now been viewed as a footnote in history.
This was a highly engaging read, offering excellent information on Ancient Egyptian culture, as well as an accounting of what Hatshepsut may have been like as a real, living and breathing human being who found an opportunity to buck the male dominated system, and reign successfully for almost 2 decades of peaceful prosperity. Highly recommended for those who are interested in Ancient Egyptian History, Ancient religions and politics.
(4 out of 5)