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Thursday, March 2, 2023

EMPRESS OF THE NILE | Kirkus Reviews

An expert biography of the most prestigious Egyptologist of her time.



The life of an archaeologist who deserves to be better known.

In her latest, bestselling historian Olson, who specializes in World War II–era politics (Citizens of London, Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days), turns her attention to archaeologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt (1913-2011). The book's first third is a delightful account of the career of an intelligent woman in early-20th-century France. Curious and self-confident, Desroches-Noblecourt became fascinated by ancient Egypt and excelled at the elite École du Louvre. "While most of her professors thought highly of her," writes Olson, "she was treated like a pariah by several of her fellow Egyptology students, all of whom were male." She shattered the myth that women could not tolerate the miseries of the Egyptian desert, and, unlike many of her colleagues, she treated Egyptian laborers with respect, a behavior that bore impressive fruit later. At age 21, Desroches-Noblecourt became project manager in the Louvre department of Egyptian antiquities, "the only woman at the time to hold a professional position in the department." Olson recounts Egyptian history culminating in the 1952 military coup, which brought Abdel Nasser to power. Infuriated at losing their colonial privileges, Britain and France, with Israel's cooperation, invaded Egypt in 1956, failing but poisoning relations with those two nations. This was the situation in 1960 when construction began on the massive Aswan Dam, built across the Nile. Its reservoir, notes the author, would destroy "hundreds of temples, tombs, churches, fortresses, inscriptions, and carvings—the fruit of half a dozen cultures and civilizations." At this point, Desroches-Noblecourt went into action. In the middle third, Olson describes her dogged but successful efforts to convince individuals and governments (including Egypt's) to preserve these priceless structures. The U.S. refused to participate until Jacqueline Kennedy persuaded her newly elected husband. Olson's conclusion digresses into other archaeological controversies and Jackie Kennedy's life, but readers will not complain. The author provides a fine account of Desroches-Noblecourt's long, distinguished career.

An expert biography of the most prestigious Egyptologist of her time.
--   Sent from my Linux system.

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