Red Land, Black Land
Red Land Black Land is a historical exploration of ancient Egyptian civilizations that discusses religion, rulers, and artifacts, but also focuses on the daily lives and experiences of ancient Egyptians – peasants and pharaohs alike. Some of the topics I found most interesting centered on the smaller details of life, like how people viewed pets, how clothing was made, what foods were popular, and what people did in their spare time.
Mertz uses a conversational tone for this title, making it feel far from a textbook and much more like an interesting story being told by a friend. It's easy to get a sense of her personality, and she seems like a fascinating, intelligent person with a real passion for her subject. This all worked very well for me – someone with casual interest and a long list of other things to read – but this title would likely not satisfy scholars. While the book is clearly well-researched, Mertz regularly acknowledges where her knowledge ends and where her guesswork begins, and her conjectures sometimes edge too far from facts and too close to myths and legends. It's also worth mentioning that, while Red Land Black Land was initially written in 1966, it has been updated to include new information throughout the years, with the most recent overhaul taking place in 2008.
For any historical mystery fans out there, Barbara Mertz, the author of this title, also wrote the popular Amelia Peabody mystery novels, most of which take place in Egypt, under the pseudonym Elizabeth Peters. I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in Ancient Egypt and a good sense of humor.