Smoothly, almost seamlessly, Lila Perl glides from the Nile Valley's verdure to agricultural development and centralized administration (""the world's first national government""), and thence to the glories of dynastic Egypt, the centuries of Greek, Roman, and Islamic rule (by the Fatimids, the Ayybids, Mamelukes, and Ottoman Turks), the French invasion, British occupation, nationalist resurgence, economic disarray, and current prospects--compressing five thousand years of Egyptian political, cultural, and social history into five pellucid chapters. It's a considerable feat, allowing of no wasted words, entailing no banal observations; but however intelligently the book is ordered--the distinction between pre- and post-Islamic Egypt is particularly well-drawn--the demands made on the reader are considerable. One must digest in a single paragraph, for example, the identity of Saladin (""a Mesopotamian-born Kurdish general""), his two-fold Egyptian mission, defeat of the Fatimids, founding of a new dynasty, reconquest of Jerusalem, and rout of Christian forces. In terms of content, a certain condescension toward the ""simple"" Islamic religion is balanced by candor about the aims and effects of British rule. Its summary nature makes the book more appropriate perhaps as a review than as an introduction, but it will leave no one uninformed.