people know of the three pyramids at Giza (Cheops,
Chephren, Menkaure), and usually they are familiar with the Bent and Red
Pyramids in Dashur. Some people are familiar with
Maidum, and the Step Pyramid. What most people don't
know is that there are almost a hundred pyramids
in Egypt beyond these well-known examples. Most are
interesting only to real pyramid-philes, but it was
fascinating to see the linear progression of pyramid
building in early Egypt outlined in this book.
If something is known about any of the hundreds of pyramids
that dot Egypt, it is in this book. This is a vast
reference book with a detailed, well-illustrated gazetteer
of pyramids in Egypt. It includes not just the major ones at Giza
and Dashur, but lesser known pyramids that exist now
as only piles of dirt or a few stones buried in the
The Complete Pyramids of Ancient Egypt covers the basic history of pyramid building
and clearly traces the evolution of the true pyramid
shape (that we see at Giza) from earlier mastaba tombs
and step pyramid shapes. If you're lucky, you'll have
a chance to see the pyramid fields in order - from
the earliest mastaba tombs of Abydos to the step pyramid
of Djoser in Saqqara, to the Bent and Red pyramids
of Dashur, Maidum, and then the awesome spectacle
of the Great Pyramid. In between, The Complete Pyramids describes the
dozens of smaller pyramids that were build and provides
clues to identifying the style and age of each one.
The photographs in the book are great, but the real
treasure are the detailed isometric drawings of the
sites and numerous line-drawings of the pyramids themselves which include the shafts and tunnels below each of them.
I didn't pick this book up until after our trip, and
I wish that I had thought to get it before we left and photocopy
some of the site maps to use for reference, especially
for Saqqara. Being able to see the "inside"
of each pyramid (which is usually impossible in person)
allowed me to see the evolution of the burials and
burial chambers as we visited the different sites.
The gazetteer portion of the book is a site-by-site
description of each pyramid, including exact location
with maps, size, dates and attributions, and as much
of the history of the pyramid as is known. Early
attempts to describe and draw the pyramids are well
documented, and the history of pyramid excavation
(usually using dynamite!) are well done. If this book
was available as a paperback, I would have had it stuffed
in my backpack every day we went out, just for the
It's not perfect, of course. Like all egyptologists,
Lehner and Wilkinson have a different theory as to how the pyramids
were built and how many people it took to do it. While
their theories disagree with many others, neither author necessarily states that his is only one current theory
on pyramid building, and that it would be short-sighted
to take his opinion as fact. I can only expect that
when an author is writing about a field that is as
nebulous as Egyptology is (about some things) that
they would be as honest as possible about contradictory
theories and evidence. If there are five Egyptologists
in a room, you can be sure they have five different
opinions about everything.
I recommend picking up this book and the companion volume, Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, by co-author Richard Wilkinson.