Most travel books will give you a basic primer in Egyptian
history -- enough to get a feel for the age of things,
but certainly not enough to appreciate more than 50
centuries of history.
Given that there have been hundreds of scholars ( thousands, if you include the non-professional
variety) trying to decipher the tantalizing hints
of Egypt's history, the fact that we have such a coherent
picture is surprising. To be sure, there are a few
crackpots out there;, but on the whole, the history
of Egypt is pieced together by a group of people who
have managed to discover a fascinating story.
There are about fifteen different chronologies, so
you'll find that nearly every book has a different
set of dates, some quite at odds with one another.
Sometimes, there is a difference of a hundred or more
years in the timelines -- but consider that
they are basing their information on potsherds and
inscriptions that are 5,000 years old, and you can
see why the discrepancies exist. Add to that three
periods of civil unrest and local warlords (politely
called the "Intermediate periods"), and the
fact that we know anything at all is even more amazing. But,
the general storyline remains the same.
Here are a few of the books that I read in preparation
for our trip. Some are a bit more fanciful than others.
I'd recommend Temples, Tombs,
and Hieroglyphs for an easy to read general history.
Complete Pyramids and
Complete Temples are a must if you are seriously
interested in the architecture and art of Egypt. The
diagrams alone are worth the cost of the book, in
my opinion (but then again, I'm easily swayed by nifty
charts and graphs).
Complete Idiots Guide to Ancient
Illustrated Guide to the Cairo
Oxford History of Ancient Egypt
Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs