For amateur Egyptologists (as opposed to mere Tut enthusiasts, who may find it too detailed) this rich and sometimes grisly...

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THE EGYPTIAN WAY OF DEATH: Mummies and the Cult of the Immortal

For amateur Egyptologists (as opposed to mere Tut enthusiasts, who may find it too detailed) this rich and sometimes grisly compilation of mortuary lore should prove as fascinating as an unransacked pyramid. Leca is an expert on Egyptian medicine and a gifted popularizer. He sweeps across 3000 years and all 30 Dynasties, through inevitable topics like the ka, the ba, and embalming techniques, touching lightly but firmly on countless collateral items: grave-robbing, X-raying the Pharaohs, the history of ""mummy"" as a wonder drug, highlights of Egyptian archaeological history, etc. Leca has little use for generalizations. After quickly acknowledging that the Egyptians were haunted by death and that their entire civilization was shaped by belief in an afterlife, he plunges right into the (often quite absorbing) particulars: Rameses V's pockmarked face and ""enormous inguinal hernia""; the lynching of a Roman by an enraged Egyptian mob when the man accidentally killed a cat; the four million mummified birds in the necropolis at Tuna el-Gebel (Leca quotes an estimate, surely too high, that some half a billion humans were mummified by the Roman period); the use of mummies as loan guarantees, as fuel, as a blood coagulant; the mummification of Alexander, tenth Duke of Hamilton, in 1852; and on and on. It's a feast of facts--though the squeamish may want to skip such tidbits as the art of extracting a cadaver's brains through his nostrils. Still, granting the uncertainty of all pronouncements on Egyptian mythology and religion, couldn't Leca have risked some sort of philosophical summary, to bridge the gap between ancient Egypt and the modern West? Within its limits, a highly competent and often vivid survey.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 1980

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1980