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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium by Elizabeth Peters, Kristen Whitbread

April 1, 2004

Edited by: Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread
HarperCollins Publishers, New York
2003 (hc)

While recovering from a recent surgery, my good friends at the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center gave me a most appropriate get-well gift: a book whose subject matter was based on archaeology. I had seen Amelia Peabody’s Egypt: A Compendium for several months at the local Barnes & Noble and was always tempted to pick up this lushly designed “coffee table book,” and I was absolutely delighted when it was presented to me as a gift—although I wouldn’t recommend by-pass surgery as a strategy to acquire desired books as gifts!

The book is simply beautiful in its lay-out, with literally hundreds of engravings, drawings, and photos circa 1890. The text of the book is built around the characters and adventures of Amelia Peabody and her husband Radcliffe Emerson, their son Walter (Ramses) and the dozens of characters that populate the pages of these wonderful adventure mysteries that take place for the most part in Egypt between the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The fictional characters and occurrences are woven among historic figures and historic situations throughout this series, and the Compendium follows that pattern.

While I had anticipated a good and entertaining read (there is No such thing as an unentertaining Peabody novel!), I was pleased and surprised to learn a lot of new information about Egyptology, Egypt, and the cultural and historical milieu in which the Peabody-Emersons lived. There are wonderfully erudite chapters on such diverse topics as the history of Egyptology from Napoleon to World War I, the history of the British in Egypt, an analysis of Islam during the “Emerson Era,” a pictorial essay on Islamic art and architecture, Victorian attitudes towards other cultures and peoples, Victorian attitudes toward the servant classes, Victorian fashion, popular music, childrearing—and the list goes on and on. I would be remiss if I failed to mention the last chapter, entitled, “Ancient Egypt 101: A Refresher Course,” by BettyWinkeolman, which is a concise ten-page treatment of Egyptian history from Predynastic times (c. 4500 BC) to the time of the Greek and Roman cultural hegemony that effectively overwhelmed the ancient Egypt to the present day.

This is a wonderful book to own. It will look great on your coffee table, it will impress your friends, and you can learn a lot about a lot!