Review: The Woman Who Would be King by Kara Cooney

THewomanwhowouldSource: Blogging for Books – Received in Exchange for an honest review. 
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Series: –
Edition: Paperback, 298 pages
Genre: Historical Nonfiction/Biography
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
Rating: 4/5 Stars

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt’s throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

It’s not common knowledge among my internet friends that I have a huge passion for archaeology and Ancient Egyptian studies. I dreamed about becoming a famous Egyptologist who did documentaries on Nat Geo and History Channel..but more importantly finally seeing some of my favorite places on earth. Kara Cooney is basically a rockstar to me, so when I saw her book up for review I didn’t even bother looking to see what else was available because YES. To top it off it’s about Hatshepsut, one of my favorite favorite pharaohs and the badass woman responsible for a handful of sites I want to see.

So the first thing you need to understand before getting into biographies about Pharoahs, is that documents left behind about who they are as actual people are rare…we know what they did and if they were successful in their endeavors thanks to rigorous record keeping, but getting to know what these god-kings were actually like is nearly impossible. It’s all inference, and Kara is very clear that much of her speculation on motivations and drives are just that, speculation. They are formed with knowledge of how the Egyptians lived and what they thought were important codes of ethics, and of course by the documents, artifacts, and buildings they left behind.

With that in mind I can honestly say that Kara’s take on the mysterious woman is done very well. Many of the ideas she had were backed up with physical evidence and all within the realm of possibility, and nothing diverged into sensationalist gossip (King Tut’s “murder” anyone? -_- ), and through that evidence it really gives the reader something to think about. It’s one thing to watch a documentary going over Hatshepsut, but most of the time they focus on the fact that she was a woman and that her successor tried to erase her from visual history. But there is just so much to think about when it comes to her rule, and I think Kara covered pretty much everything starting from her childhood up to the end of her co-regent’s rule. She’s very concise in putting things together in order and then providing possibly explanations for Hatshepsut’s very calculated moves to ensure she was seen and respected despite her femininity.  I knew quite a bit going in, but I have to say that Kara’s take on everything really opened up new topics I never heard about like God’s Wife and the possibility of her building projects being more than just religion but also as propaganda. We also get some incite on the people surrounding Hatshepsut like Senenmut (advisor/tutor), Thutmose I (father), II (husband), and III (nephew), and Neferure (her daughter). And we get to see the affect she had on subsequent Pharoahs like the rise in huge building projects and the quickly diminished role of women in power.

The writing is also excellent, it’s both informative and really easy to understand. Anything that isn’t self-explanatory is described, and there are plenty of annotations in the back that add addition information should you want it. It’s  great for those who already know a lot about the subject and those who are just starting out. To top it off it’s not that large of a book, so you don’t have to worry about sitting down with a intimidating tome of ancient history.

4 stars

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One Response to Review: The Woman Who Would be King by Kara Cooney

  1. alexmfrank says:

    I like your review! I don’t tend to read nonfiction, but Ancient Egypt is fascinating. It was one of my favorite topics from my art history class. This book sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review.

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