Over the weekend I shared a picture of Kara Cooney's new book The Woman Who Would Be King, and I'm excited to share my thoughts! The book is a biography of sorts on Hatshepsut, a woman who rose to power during Egypt's Eighteenth Dynasty in the 1400s BCE. She is one of few female rulers in antiquity, and she's one of the only ones to rule for decades with a great deal of success. Despite this, she's been eclipsed by the glamorous Cleopatra and other female figures from the ancient world.
The book is fascinating, not only because of Hatshepsut's incredible life, but because of the details Cooney shares surrounding Egyptian life at the time. She weaves together political institutions, religious rituals and architecture to create a very vibrant picture of what Egyptian power looked like in the Eighteenth Dynasty.
As for Hatshepsut, she's a truly inspiring figure. She was able to meticulously and carefully gain power in a highly patriarchal society, using religion to her advantage as she slowly made her way to the throne. The daughter of a king, a highly influential priestess, and the wife of a king, Hatshepsut spent her entire pre-ruler life in a position of power. But her adept shift from woman behind the throne to key figure on the throne is an amazing story.
That being said, the speculative nature of the book makes it difficult to fully enjoy. Cooney makes clear that records from this time period are lacking, and that we can't know anything for certain surrounding Hatshepsut's motivations or emotions. Littered with "probably" and "likely", the qualifiers can become distracting. I would have much rather seen one significant disclaimer in the beginning, although if the target audience is scholars (which I get the sense is not the case) I can understand her hesitancy to put too fine a point on any details.
I received a free copy of this book through the Blogging for Books program.
Bridey is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.
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