Nonfiction Review of The Woman Who Would Be King


The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney

Age Range: Adult

Series: none

Genre: Nonfiction/history

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Crown (October 14, 2014)

Source: From publisher via Blogging for Books

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars

About the Book:

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power.

Hatshepsut—the daughter of a general who usurped Egypt’s throne and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty—was born into a privileged position in the royal household, and she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her improbable rule as a cross-dressing king.  At just over twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of pharaoh in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays in the veil of piety and sexual reinvention. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut shrewdly operated the levers of power to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her monuments were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her unprecedented rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

My Thoughts:

I first learned of Hatshepsut in college, during an Ancient Egyptian Art History class.  Her story has fascinated me ever since, so when I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. There were a lot of things about this book that I loved, and a lot that I didn’t. I’ll start with the things I didn’t like.

Much of the text was repetitive, going over the same things again and again. It got sluggish in some places and I struggled with parts of the book. But the biggest downer for me was all the speculation. Many sentences started with phrases like “it’s possible that” and “perhaps” and “we can imagine”. After a while, I had a hard time discerning where the facts ended and the author’s imagination took over.

On the plus side, I loved the information that WAS fact. I loved reading about the way the government system was set up, the foreign campaigning, and the building. Hatshepsut was a brilliant woman that history tried to erase. But just like in life, she refused to be forgotten in death. I loved the excerpts from ancient documents and the photos of the sculptures and monuments included in the middle of the book.

If you want to learn more about one of the most amazing women in history, this is a great book to read as long as you don’t mind the speculative nature of it. It has enough interesting facts and information to make it worth the read.

Content: Discussions of sexuality and the sexual nature of many religious responsibilities taken on by the God’s Wife.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.


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1 Comment

  • Reply
    November 13, 2014 at 3:49 pm

    I've seen her name one place or another. Didn't know anything about her until I read your review. Your review is really interesting.

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