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The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt

March 30, 2011

Michiko Kakutami in NYT:

An emotionally fraught transition from one regime to the next, with no clear-cut successor to the previous ruler. Worries about stability and the maintenance of law and order. Fears about foreign meddling and influence. The army at least temporarily filling the political vacuum and overseeing a transition.

This sequence of events — which may sound familiar to those who followed this year’s overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler of nearly three decades — actually occurred, the scholar Toby Wilkinson said in a recent essay in The Wall Street Journal, more than 3,000 years ago, after the death of the boy-king King Tutankhamen, when the army stepped in to maintain order and act as power broker.

As its title indicates, Mr. Wilkinson’s new book, “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt,” is about those long-ago days of the pharaohs and does not grapple with developments in that country after the death of Cleopatra in 30 B.C. But the volume does shed light on patterns in Egyptian history and the ways in which the country’s geography (which made it susceptible to invasion and attack) and “the sharp dichotomies of nature in the Nile Valley” (flood and drought, fertile land and arid desert) amplified what Mr. Wilkinson sees as a national proclivity to view “the world as a constant battle between order and chaos” — a tendency that he says the country’s leaders often played upon to justify their domineering, autocratic rule. [More]

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