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A World Beneath the Sands Reviews

A World Beneath the Sands by Toby Wilkinson

A World Beneath the Sands: Adventurers and Archaeologists in the Golden Age of Egyptology

Toby Wilkinson

3.67 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: History, Non-fiction
Imprint: Picador
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Publication date: 15 Oct 2020
ISBN: 9781509858705

A vivid account of the men and women who revealed the treasures of Ancient Egypt to the world, from the first decipherment of hieroglyphics to the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun.

4 stars out of 5
A.S.H. Smyth
24 Oct 2020

"Toby Wilkinson celebrates the golden age of Egyptology"

It would be hard to overstate the excellence of Wilkinson’s storytelling — and I was surprisingly distraught to think that there can never be a sequel. For three years at the beginning of this century I worked — happily, if somewhat fitfully — in an institute named for one of the men in this book, yet those archaeologists’ day-to-day lives were entirely absent from my course. Late on in A World Beneath the Sands I realised what I should probably have studied was not Egyptology but Egyptologists.



3 stars out of 5
22 Oct 2020

" ‘archaeology’ is often represented in books like Wilkinson’s as if it were a science that emerged fully formed in the Enlightenmen"

Though ‘archaeology’ is often represented in books like Wilkinson’s as if it were a science that emerged fully formed in the Enlightenment, both the word and the concept only entered common use in the mid-19th century. To excavate was to dig around, rummaging for the remains of the ancient past. Shared methods and professional standards were decades away, and ethical standards further still. Mariette was well rewarded for his thefts after Said Pasha replaced the murdered Abbas. Said established a Service des Antiquités in 1858, with Mariette at its head, and a renewed state collection was planned for Cairo. This was, Mariette wrote, ‘like taking possession of Egypt for the cause of science’. With a government boat at his disposal, and the power to call up corvée labour, Mariette set thousands of men digging throughout the Nile Valley. This time, what was found didn’t go to the Louvre, but to a museum in Cairo’s Bulaq (‘beau lac’) district. Mariette brought his family from France to join him in the director’s residence next door.

4 stars out of 5
James McConnachie
4 Oct 2020

"This book focuses on the great men of that Golden Age. As such it is an old-fashioned approach — but then those men were very great"

I felt the need for some sort of reckoning here. And a need, too, for a more visceral sense of why ancient Egypt had such allure. Ever since Rome, Wilkinson says, new empires “proclaimed their might by usurping the monuments of earlier empires, especially the empire of the pharaohs”. Yet beyond the admiration and the scholarship, the imperialism and the looting — all skilfully and entertainingly plotted here — there is surely another story to tell; one that explains why the “world beneath the sands” so long exerted such a pull on the European heart.