A TL;DR on the past and present of Egypt.
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Why I love it
BOTM Editorial Team
One dusty afternoon in Austin, Texas, in the back of a friend’s car, I had one of those reading experiences that was so vivid, I’ll remember it forever. In some tattered back issue of The New Yorker, a magazine I rarely peruse, I encountered a writer whose storytelling ability was so dazzling that I immediately tracked down one of his travel memoirs (a genre I rarely dip into) and devoured it in a few days. That writer was Peter Hessler, and from then on, I was a lifelong fan.
This month, Hessler is back with a new work of nonfiction about Egypt—from Ancient Egypt to the Arab Spring. Sounds weighty? Oh, and how. This is a biography of a nation, an introduction to archeology, a work of sociology, and a memoir all rolled into one. In pursuit of his keen interest in Egypt’s history and culture, Hessler and his family move to Egypt … just as the 2011 revolution is beginning. As a result, the book is a meandering tour of past and present, war, chaos, and peace, and a whole host of real-life characters you’ll root for and wonder about for weeks after reading.
This is not your typical beach read, but I think it’ll find an audience among those who love serious nonfiction. Illuminating, surprising, and even newsy, The Buried is a work of cultural reporting from a master at the height of his game.
Drawn by a fascination with Egypt's rich history and culture, Peter Hessler moved with his wife and twin daughters to Cairo in 2011. He wanted to learn Arabic, explore Cairo's neighborhoods, and visit the legendary archaeological digs of Upper Egypt. After his years of covering China for The New Yorker, friends warned him Egypt would be a much quieter place. But not long before he arrived, the Egyptian Arab Spring had begun, and now the country was in chaos.
In the midst of the revolution, Hessler often traveled to digs at Amarna and Abydos, where locals live beside the tombs of kings and courtiers, a landscape that they call simply al-Madfuna "the Buried." He and his wife set out to master Arabic, striking up a friendship with their instructor, a cynical political sophisticate. They also befriended Peter's translator, a gay man struggling to find happiness in Egypt's homophobic culture. A different kind of friendship was formed with the neighborhood garbage collector, an illiterate but highly perceptive man named Sayyid, whose access to the trash of Cairo would be its own kind of archaeological excavation. Hessler also met a family of Chinese small-business owners in the lingerie trade; their view of the country proved a bracing counterpoint to the West's conventional wisdom.
Through the lives of these and other ordinary people in a time of tragedy and heartache, and through connections between contemporary Egypt and its ancient past, Hessler creates an astonishing portrait of a country and its people. What emerges is a book of uncompromising intelligence and humanity—the story of a land in which a weak state has collapsed but its underlying society remains in many ways painfully the same.
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Ties individual stories together, weaving in the history of the Arab Spring, his own experience, and compares Egyptian revolutions with world ideologies throughout history. I thoroughly enjoyed this read
Woodbury , NJ
This was not an easy read. It is heavy, complex and dense. Took me 3 tried to read it. I’m glad i did. Beautifully woven story of a harsh political climate and the everyday citizen just trying to live
I’m disappointed with how little I knew about the culture and history of Egypt. This book was a nice glimpse into a period of history. Now I’d love to read from the author’s wife’s perspective!
Liked the comparison of ancient and contemporary Egypt. There were insights into the culture and concepts, such as time, that ran through both the past and present Egypt. The book awoke understanding
Took a really long time to read but was extremely interesting! I always was interested in ancient Egypt so I love how this describes modern Egypt along with ancient history. Loved all the people in it
I'm not sure why I chose this book out of the 5 options, but I'm so glad I did. A beautifully written history of the Arab Spring that that weaves in personal stories and ancient Egypt. A gorgeous book
Amazing the way the author is able to weave history and archeology as well as the anthropology of Egyptian culture together in an engaging way, even managing to bring personal stories to the forefront
Long Beach, CA
So engaging-both intellectually and emotionally!Egypt's vast history is at times an overwhelming concept, but Hessler balanced nicely by diving into the everyday lives of those he came to call friends
I have to thank book of the month for this one. Not a book I would normally have picked up. I loved this! Interesting, educational and thought-provoking. This is a dense book and very well-written
New Market, MD
I don't usually gravitate towards nonfiction so I'm really glad I gave this one a try. A very great introduction to modern and historical Egypt. I am now motivated to try Peter Hessler's other books.
I loved, loved this book. It takes a few dozen pages to get used to how Hessler writes, but once you get in his groove he’ll sweep you away. Historical nonfiction like this is rarely so captivating.
Oro Valley, AZ
Calling all my fellow history nerds! As a hobby historian and admirer of ancient archeology I found the content shared by the author/journalist fascinating. I didn’t know so much of this true tail.
In different moments of this book I laughed out loud, yelled in feminist anger, and cried at the depravity that humans are capable of. A must read, provoking glimpse into Egyptian history and culture.
San Diego, CA
This book was absolutely fascinating on a wide variety of levels--I learned so, so much about present day Egyptian culture, ancient Egyptian culture, and all about the Arab Spring. Completely amazing.
I lOVED everything about it. It was my first Peter Hessler book and I was pleasntly surprised by his gripping style of writing! He is also very funny! I found myself chuckling out loud so many times!
I'm not even halfway through yet, but I am completely entranced by Hessler's storytelling. I know very little about the Arab Spring in specific and this outsider's view is a wonderful vantage to learn
College Station, TX
This book is a fantastic walk through the Arab Spring. It combines both governemental, historical, and cultural aspects of the revolution and makes the reader feel connected with the Egyptian people.
West Hollywood, CA
Like Steinbeck’s ‘A Russian Journal’, this book steeps us in the daily lives of a world that we know more intimately than we think. Getting to know these people was a really incredible journey.
A longgg read but very well worth it. Hessler's narration as a foreigner in such a major cultural moment for a nation that most Americans know little to nothing about was incredibly thought provoking.
Coeur D Alene, ID
I adore this kind of writing, but I am a history nerd. The story was well put together tying old and new into each other. Lots to learn from this book, also a great story from the author and his life.