Saturday 7 May 2011
The Murder of King Tut by James Patterson and Martin Dugard
Tutankhamun was an Egyptian pharaoh. He came to power after the radical Akhenaten, who outlawed worship of the traditional range of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses, in favour of the Sun God, Aten. He turned his back on war and Egypt's traditional cities, overseeing a period of decline. His son, Tutankhamun, was only around eight years old when he became pharaoh, and died in his late teens. His was the only intact Egyptian tomb to ever be discovered, by Howard Carter. He also married his half-sister!
So it's not as though the subject matter wasn't interesting. The problem I had with it was that it read as though Patterson had got a passing urge for Egyptology, read a few general books, and then attempted to pass himself off as an expert, writing the book very quickly. I teach Ancient Egypt to my year 3 class (aged 7-8), and I can tell you that they definitely know more about Tut than James Patterson does.
And despite this lack of any in-depth facts, Patterson criticises Egyptologists and their theories. Although no one will ever really know how Tut died (he had multiple injuries, including a blow to the head, leg injury and swollen tooth that could have been infected), Patterson absolutely claims that he was murdered and that he knew who did it. This is all based on his 'hunch' and 'feelings'. He dismisses the renowed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass (who has recently released some new DNA evidence), claiming that his research is all wrong. I found all this completely arrogant and unscientific. Patterson's theory about a murderous chief advisor is interesting, but it's just that, a theory. I certainly wouldn't claim to know more about a subject than someone who has studied it for years and years.
Another problem I had was with the way the book was put together. I had a chunky hardback version from my library but the pages were deceptively thick. The numerous chapters often had only one or two pages, with each chapter finishing near the top of a page and the next starting on a fresh. This all felt suspiciously like padding out on the part of the publisher, making the book seem more substantial than it really was. It was probably only the length of a novella.
I should say something positive - the writing wasn't bad, and Patterson would make a good historical fiction author. He should just stay well away from non-fiction.
Verdict: Glad this one was a library book.
Score: 1 out of 5