Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs by Bob Brier, introduced by Zahi Hawass.
The subtitle of this book regarding “Our Three Thousand Year Obsession” with Egypt raises the irritating question: Who are “we”? Author Bob Brier encourages the reader to identify with Roman emperors and a Renaissance pope, as well as Napoleon and his team of scholars. Brier himself is a popularizing Egyptologist, and this book leverages his personal collection of Egyptophilic consumer artifacts along with research into the historical contexts of the various Egyptian “revivals” (or “manias,” as he would put it) in European and American taste. The result combines a survey of Egypto-kitsch with the cheeriest history of imperialist domination of northeast Africa you’re ever likely to read.
The considerable amplitude of the topic results in some evident omissions. Despite an account of mummy tunes from Tin Pan Alley, and an accessible survey of Egyptian themes in 20th-century cinema, there is nothing about operas such as Mozart’s Magic Flute or Verdi’s Aida. Brier briefly discusses the involvement of American Freemasons in the transport and installation of the New York obelisk, but he doesn’t touch on the high profile of ancient Egyptian religion in the movements of modern occultism. He does, however deliver the full goods on a history of relevant touring museum exhibits, and Egyptian-styled tobacco packaging.
The whole thing reads very quickly, and contains a host of amusing historical anecdotes. It’s a book that almost seems determined to avoid the importance of its subject matter, reducing cultural intercourse to issues of personal obsession and popular appeal. [via]