Noted Egyptologist El Mahdy (Exploring the World of the Pharaohs, not reviewed) separates legend from history in the story of the king whose short life has long captivated the public.
El Mahdy (whose interest in Egypt began when she was seven years old) declares that she finds the "private face" of the boy-king "far more intriguing than the alluring glitter of the gold he was buried with." In her complex though always engaging narrative El Mahdy accomplishes a number of tasks. She acquaints general readers with the foundations of ancient Egyptian civilization (including geography, religion, family, government, communications, nomenclature, and chronology). She tells the riveting story of the 1922 discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb and the subsequent political struggles for control of the excavation and the artifacts. She relates what has become the "official" account of the boy-king, "the whole" of which, she says, "is completely untrue." And, finally, in a remarkable employment of archaeological evidence to support historical inference she constructs a convincing biography of the mysterious Tutankhamen who was crowned as a 7-year-old 3,500 years ago but ruled only about 9 years. Recognizing that scholarship often "finds a limited reading market, while wild theories . . . reach a wide readership," El Mahdy pauses periodically to puncture the inflated stories about the boy-king and about Egyptology in general. She emphasizes that the Egyptians never placed "a curse on entering a tomb"—quite the contrary (visitors were encouraged)—and she characterizes as "totally fallacious" the popular accounts of King Tut's curse. She argues, as well, against the pervasive notion that the boy-king was murdered ("out of the question," she declares) and establishes an alternative explanation—that he "died suddenly and of natural causes." The book's title is a bit misleading: El Mahdy spends most of her time dismantling the legends about the boy-king and establishing the firm historical foundation of his family. Her reconstruction of his brief life consumes only about 20 pages.
An entertaining blend of tenacious scholarship, rigorous argument, and lucid exposition. (maps, photos, illustrations, diagrams)