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The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney: A Book Review

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt 
Author: Kara Cooney
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power.

     Hatshepsut—the daughter of a general who usurped Egypt's throne and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty—was born into a privileged position in the royal household, and she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her improbable rule as a cross-dressing king.  At just over twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of pharaoh in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays in the veil of piety and sexual reinvention. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut shrewdly operated the levers of power to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

     Hatshepsut successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her monuments were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her unprecedented rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

     My review: Hatshepsut is one of the most successful female pharaoh in Egypt. She was never overthrown. However, her success and accomplishments have been greatly diminished by the most famous female pharaoh, Cleopatra. In this biography, Kara Cooney analyzes how Hatshepsut was able to gain the throne of Egypt and why she was able to maintain it. She also analyzes why Hatshepsut’s monuments were destroyed and her name was erased by her stepson, Thutmose III.

     At first, Hatshepsut seems like she was destined to remain in obscurity as King’s Great Wife in one of Thutmose II royal harem. She had no sons of her own, so she was not going to be King’s Mother. But when her husband Thutmose II dies leaving an infant son, Hatshepsut decides to be regent. Over time Thutmose III is growing up as an adult and Hatshepsut realizes that she must relinquish the reigns of her to him. Not wanting to give up her power, she crowns herself king and co-rules with him. Hatshepsut proves to be a genius of political acumen. Because what she has done is very radical, she uses political and religious ideology to maintain her rule. When there arose problems and obstacles that prevent her from ruling, she was able to find a solution. Hatshepsut never once tries to overthrow Thutmose III and reigns alongside him.

     Overall, this biography shows a fascinating woman. The author writes in a biographical narrative style. The biography does not focus on archaeology and how Hatshepsut has been interpreted in history. Instead, she makes the biography more personal. She focuses on Hatshepsut’s emotions and feelings. Her triumphs and disappointments. Thus she uses her imagination and speculations to tell her story and focuses on her own interpretation of what she believes Hatshepsut might have gone through. However, this biography is very well-researched and it is obvious that she greatly admires her subject. The writing is very engaging and witty. This biography is more for the general reader and those who never heard of Hatshepsut before. This is also great for those who want to read about Hatshepsut's story in a more personal and emotional light. For those who want a more scholarly read on Hatshepsut or to know more about archaeological findings and interpretations, I recommend Joyce Tyldesley’s Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh. Still, this biography is great for those want to know her basic story without feeling overburdened by facts. This novel is a great introduction to the fascinating female pharaoh.

Rating: 4 out 5 stars


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