Book Review: The Woman Who Would Be King – Kara Cooney

The Woman Who Would Be King cover Title: The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt
Author: Kara Cooney
ISBN: 9780307956767
Pages: 320
Release Date: October 14, 2014
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Biography
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary:

In this biography of Hatshepsut, pharaoh of Egypt, author Kara Cooney pieces together the clues from this remarkable woman’s reign while also trying to fill in the gaps when history doesn’t provide us with answers.

Snapshot Review:

A fascinating look at an Egyptian leader almost lost to history, The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt provides a fresh interpretation of this influential woman through a feminist lens.

Full Review:

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt is a fascinating biography of a woman who defied all gender conventions before we even knew that was possible. Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt were men, really with no exception. The country was ruled through a principle of divine rule; women weren’t even in the equation. The amazing thing that Hatshepsut did was that she ruled Egypt as Pharaoh; not as regent or on behalf of someone else. She singlehandedly changed the calculus, but despite that (or, as Cooney conjectures, because of it), she was lost to history.

It’s clear that Cooney did quite a bit of research in putting The Woman Who Would Be King together. There are a lot of holes, but Cooney makes it very clear whenever she is assuming or guessing, rather than providing information based on concrete evidence, and her interpretation is usually quite convincing. The author has a passion for Hatshepsut, and that enthusiasm makes it onto every page. It makes for an engaging, fascinating read.

Cooney provides an intriguing look at how Hatshepsut came to power in The Woman Who Would Be King, and she provides a feminist perspective to Hatshepsut’s rise. “What may consign Hatshepsut to obscurity is our inability to appreciate and value honest, naked, female ambition, not to mention actual power wielded properly by a woman,” Cooney says. She (convincingly) argues that Hatshepsut’s downfall, the reason that most evidence of her has been eradicated, is that it was unseemly for a woman to want power for power’s sake. Women must reluctantly accept power; to seek it out, to have ambition, is unwomanly and unacceptable. It’s a great lens through which to view Hatshepsut’s reign, especially because Cooney does an incredible job showing us just how exacting Hatshepsut was in her manipulation of the people, politics, and religion around her in order to come to power.

This biography focuses on how Hatshepsut acquired and kept power, rather than what she accomplished in her reign. This might leave some Ancient Egypt fans wanting, but for anyone looking for a well-researched and compelling biography of a singular woman who has been virtually forgotten to history, this is absolutely the book you should pick up. Cooney’s feminist framework for The Woman Who Would Be King makes for an engaging, informative read that any nonfiction reader will enjoy.

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Comments

  1. I can’t resist books about women in history, and this one sounds excellent!

  2. How awesome. Hatsheput was “wicked” – at least that’s what one of my ancient and medieval literature students claimed. Most of my students really enjoy her story, and I would love to know more about her, so thanks for the suggestion.

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