Effortlessly dipping into the annals of history, both ancient and recent, The Nile: Downriver Through Egypt’s Past and Present, brings more than 7,000 years of Egypt's past to life in this wonderfully written book. Sparingly using some of his own personal experiences whilst travelling through Egypt on multiple occasions, Wilkinson also provides a glimpse to its future, in this extremely accessible history/travel book.
Whilst Herodotus stated that Egypt is "the gift of the river", Wilkinson puts it just as poetically by proclaiming that “Egypt is the Nile, the Nile Egypt”. The importance of the Nile River region to Egypt is highlighted in that it constitutes less than 5% of the country by area, but is responsible for supporting more than 96% of its population. Consequently most of the historical events of note took place close to its waters and Wilkinson takes us on a journey northwards with the flow of this great river using the Nile as the vessel for presenting the history of Egypt.
Following the river northwards ensures a focus on each particular region and the history shaping events and peoples from these area rather than setting these up in chronological order. Through the course of the book, we visit many places which will already be familiar, such as Luxor and Giza, whilst also visiting a wide range of lesser known places that have been instrumental in defining Egypt's history such as Abydos, Antinoopolis and Fayum.
In addition to highlighting a raft of lesser known sites worth visiting, The Nile also does an admirable job of placing you alongside the better known sites instantly conjuring up images of these places for those fortunate enough to have marvelled upon these previously. There are a lot of different names to come to grips with, both places, rulers and archaeologists and the book jumps around a bit with regards the overall timeline of Egypt's history, but the quality of writing ensures the book remains easy to follow and fascinating to read.
This is a must read for anyone who thinks Egypt consists only of the Pyramids and the Valley of the Kings or believes Howard Carter was the only Egyptologist/archaeologist with a story worth telling. For anyone looking to travel to Egypt, even in these more troubled times, you could do a lot worse than throwing away your guidebook of choice and instead replacing it instead with The Nile as your comprehensive go to guide for Egypt. How I wish this book was written when I travelled through this most ancient of countries many years ago.
4 stars out of 5
Banner Credit: Chuck Siefke