ARCHAEOLOGY

Book Review: 'In the Valley of the Kings' by Daniel Meyerson

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

IN THE VALLEY OF THE KINGS

Howard Carter and the Mystery of King Tutankhamun's Tomb

By Daniel Meyerson

Random House. 230 pp. $26

At the moment in 1922 when Howard Carter uncovered the mummy of King Tut, he catapulted both parties from obscurity to fame. In this slim volume, Daniel Meyerson places that moment in the context of biography, archaeology, Egyptology and mythology.

Tutankhamun was the son of a sun-worshipping mad monotheist who abolished the national religion and built his own capital city and burial complex in the mid-1300s B.C.E. The father's death threw the country into religious and political turmoil (Tut himself died young, perhaps in a hunting accident). Ironically, Egypt was in a similar state just 100 years ago, as a native political awakening began to undercut French influence, British domination and Ottoman rule. At the same time, brilliant (and occasionally unscrupulous and sticky-fingered) archaeologists scrambled for wealthy patrons as they panned for the gold of a civilization buried beneath the sand.

Carter, a low-born, little-educated, lonely and slightly crazed British artist who became one of the greatest Egyptologists of his day, is a compelling central character, and his eccentric mentor William Flinders Petrie also commands attention. Carter found the greatest treasure under the desert, but never found peace: Tut's true curse was to be so well hidden that only an eternally dissatisfied man would have the patience to discover his tomb.

Meyerson brings to life the excitement of that hunt.

-- Alexander F. Remington


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