Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guest Review: Beneath the Sands of Egypt

Summary:  From the known to the unknown . . .

With its spectacular temples, tombs, monuments, and mummies, as well as esoteric metaphysics, legendary historical characters, and connections to the Bible, ancient Egypt has enticed the human imagination for centuries. This search for understanding and drive to uncover a lost civilization has also been the life work of archaeologist Donald P. Ryan, Ph.D. In Beneath the Sands of Egypt, he offers an intriguing personal account of a career spent researching the remains of Egypt's past—including his headline-making rediscovery of a lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings containing the mummy of the famous female pharaoh Hatshepsut.

Since his early childhood, Ryan dreamed of exploration and adventure. Inspired by his plastic dinosaurs, his books—including Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki—and his father's National Geographic collection, Ryan was determined to become an archaeologist. It is a quest that has taken him from harsh desert digs to the modern comforts of Europe's finest museums to treacherous Alpine peaks—and into the lives of his archaeological predecessors, gathering insight from obscure documents and, literally, digging in their wake. 

Beneath the Sands of Egypt interweaves Ryan's captivating tales from the field with reflections into the arcane world of Egyptology, from the writings of Herodotus to the tools of the trade, the intricacies of obtaining a digging permit to the thrall of popular myths. In addition, Ryan introduces a diverse cast of eccentric colleagues, helpful locals, wily entrepreneurs, and enlightened benefactors who have touched his life, including the legendary Thor Heyerdahl, Ryan's childhood hero who eventually became his friend, mentor, and boss. Throughout, Ryan adds his unique touch, reminding us how an artifact as seemingly insignificant as a piece of rope can unlock invaluable insights and offer its own wonderful tale. 

Infused with the irrepressible curiosity that has fueled Ryan's journey, Beneath the Sands of Egypt is the extraordinary story of a man who has spent a lifetime embracing adventure whenever—and wherever—he finds it. -- William Morrow

When I heard about the new book BENEATH THE SANDS OF EGYPT: ADVENTURES OF AN UNCONVENTIONAL ARCHAEOLOGIST by Donald P. Ryan, PhD, I immediately thought of my dad. He and my mom visited Egypt last year and one of their favorite stops was The Valley of the Kings. I thought my dad might be interested in learning some more about the pharaoh Hatshepsut, so I passed this book along to him. Here are his thoughts:

BENEATH THE SANDS OF EGYPT chronicles a personal account of the life, adventures and discoveries of author Dr. Donald Ryan, a noted Egyptologist and archaeologist. When I had the opportunity to review this book, I was enthused because of a recent trip my wife and I took that included a tour of the Valley of Kings. His detailed description of his archaeological undertakings in the Valley of Kings gave me an opportunity to relive one of our greatest travel experiences.

The novel provides an outline of Dr. Ryan’s career including his schooling, mountain climbing experiences and his significant archaeological projects. A puzzling aspect of the novel was Ryan’s decision to hide the names of the universities he attended by using references such as Big University and the Union. I’m sure this information is available in his biographies so it makes no sense to me that he hides it.

Dr. Ryan shares with the reader some very detailed insights into archeology. His descriptions of the working conditions including the complicated permit process, the extreme heat, the physical dangers, the boring and laborious tasks of moving stones and earth and the tedious process of collecting and analyzing specimens make it clear that the job of the archaeologist is not always the romantic and glamorous task often depicted in motion picture characters such as Indiana Jones. Ryan comes across in the book as an enthusiastic individual who loves his work and as one who is driven to succeed.

The book gives the reader a good feel for the time-line in archaeological discoveries. For example, the highlight of Ryan’s career was the rediscovery of the tomb that contained the mummy of Hatshepsut, the famous female Egyptian pharaoh. It was nearly 20 years after Ryan’s discovery that evidence surfaced to prove the mummy was Hatshepsut.

One issue that comes to light in BENEATH THE SANDS OF EGYPT is how difficult it is to eke out a living as an archaeologist. Many archaeologists, including Ryan, supplement their income by teaching at universities and even high school. Finding funding for a significant project like an excavation at the Valley of Kings is extremely difficult.

Dr. Ryan takes time in his novel to praise some of the famous archaeologists who preceded him including Howard Carter who discovered the tomb of King Tut and Thor Heyerdahl, famous for his Kon-Tiki adventure. Ryan spent several years working as Heyerdahl’s assistance. According to Ryan not everyone agrees with his assessment of these individuals.

BENEATH THE SANDS OF EGYPT is a very readable book and would be of interest to anyone who has an interest in archeology or Egyptology.

Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Yay, I love reviews by Booking Pap!

I think it's good too to get realistic views of anthropology out there, although maybe it's the Indiana Jones stories that might inspire new recruits!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely want to read this book. It sounds just fascinating but realistic.

Sandy Nawrot said...

What kid doesn't have the dream at one point to be an archaeologist? I know I did. But sadly, most of them don't dig up mummies, they end up digging for indian beads and stuff like that. This would be a fascinating book to read. Right up my alley! Thanks Pap Pap!

Swapna said...

Thanks to Booking P for a great review! I enjoyed this book as well, and had many of the same thoughts, especially the surprise at how difficult it is to make a living as an archaeologist!

Veens said...

I am sorry to hear that it is so difficult to make a living out of it.

Great review.