When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

400p. illus. index. notes. National Geographic. Nov. 2018. Tr $28. ISBN 9781426219771.
In ancient Egypt, where authoritarian god kings dominated, a few women rose to positions of political power. Cooney traces the history of six women who ruled one of the greatest civilizations of the ancient world, from Merneith, a mysterious and little-known first dynasty queen, to more familiar figures like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra VII. The author paints an evocative picture of female power in ancient Egypt. Her descriptions of archaeological evidence and her conclusions about these women's lives are fascinating and will appeal to a broad audience, while still remaining grounded in her extensive research. The book condenses a wealth of specific information into a readable, engrossing format. Cooney creates an effective narrative of political machinations, incest, murder, and deception that will intrigue adults and teenagers, especially given the young age of the queens represented. However, the work's attempt to compare female power in ancient Egypt to contemporary politics is less successful. Cooney engages in regressive gender essentialism, arguing about the so-called "biological predisposition[s]" that inform male and female leadership, and the connections she makes between ancient leaders and modern figures such as Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel lack nuance and context.
VERDICT Overall, Cooney's compelling writing about the ancient world outweighs her overly simplistic use of contemporary politics. Recommended for large high school and public library collections that feature ancient history and women's studies titles.

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