Pharaoh explains why it’s good to be top banana.
Though cast at the outset as a generic pharaoh’s advice for his successor, the pretext is quickly abandoned in favor of a top-down view of ancient Egyptian society that focuses on the necessity of keeping priests, nobles, and common people under the pharaonic thumb. Along with accounts of what viziers and scribes are for, the boastful narrator describes in colloquial language the ruler’s lifestyle, autocratic privileges (“I’m sick of crocodile head. Where’s the cake?”), foreign relations, select deities, and, finally, mummification and burial. “Fiendish Fact File” boxes on every spread offer anecdotes about specific pharaohs—10 more of whom get thumbnail profiles at the close—and on nearly every page Pentney adds scowling, heroically chiseled cartoon figures in period dress with fierce scowls (and unrealistically light skin). Aside from Hatshepsut and Cleopatra, women get almost no notice here. More disappointingly, to bloodthirsty readers at least, actual fiendish deeds likewise rarely get more than bare mentions. The co-published An Emperor’s Guide, A King’s Guide, and A Shogun’s Guide offer similar messages, historical tidbits, and art in the same format from heads of state in, respectively, ancient Rome, medieval Western Europe, and classical Japan.
Entertainingly grandiose but too superficial to reign over more fact-based surveys. (index) (Nonfiction. 7-10)