Friday, 17 December 2010
Ramesses by Joyce Tyldesley
Synopsis: Joyce Tyldesley presents what history knows about Ramesses, one of Egypt's most famous pharoahs. Using a number of different sources, she separates myth from fact.
Score: 2 out of 5
You know how some non-fiction books are so well written and lively and engaging that you feel like you're reading a fantastic work of fiction and you just can't put them down? This book wasn't like that. In fact, this book was the opposite - it managed to make a fascinating topic that I already had some knowledge of seem dull and it was a battle to get to the end.
Part of the problem was that Tyldesley had organised the book thematically, with chapters such as 'Ramesses the Husband' and 'Ramesses the Warrior'. This meant there was no overall arc to the book, making it hard to place the various events and leaving me with no clear impression of what Ramesses was actually like. Whilst I appreciate that much about his life is not known, I would still rather have had what is known organised chronologically.
The book also couldn't decide whether it wanted to be academic or popular non-fiction. The other book of hers I've read Egypt: How a Lost Civilisation was Rediscovered was clealy supposed to be a popular non-fiction book. There was an attempt to make the writing lively. Ramesses was different; there were notes at the end of each chapter, a further reading list, and way too much scholarly detail. At one point she spent about 30 pages outlining the names and lives of all of Ramesses children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. And the history of all his scribes, advisers etc were also included, down to their position of birth and where they died. That kind of stuff is too much for the interested but not that knowledgeable reader.
All this is not to say there was nothing I enjoyed about the book. There was some interesting facts about his family life (it seems he married practically all of his female relations) and about the way society in Egypt was organised. Ramesses was also a master of propaganda, and modern politicians could learn from him. Even now he is remembered as a great warrior pharaoh, but his 'victories' seemed to have been largely made up. And his famous statues either plagarised or stolen from previous pharoahs.
To sum up: only really for the serious Egyptologist or those that enjoy very winding family trees.