Brief Bibliography

Gayle Gibson

Revised March 2007

New books about the pyramids of Egypt appear with great regularity. This annotated bibliography should help you choose among them.

First, the two best:

Lehner, Mark. The Complete Pyramids—Solving the Ancient Mysteries
London: Thames and Hudson,1997.
256 pages, 556 illustrations, 83 in colour. If you can only afford one book, this is the one to buy. Mark Lehner has been working at Giza since 1979, since 1984 as Director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project. He writes clearly, and has the benefit of recent research. This book covers all the pyramids known in Egypt up to 1996, and devotes six pages to the pyramids of Sudan. The book begins with an overview of Egyptian religious beliefs (the why of pyramid building), and proceeds to early accounts of pyramids by Greeks and Romans, Copts and Arabs, goes on to describe the first European explorers, and continues with accounts of the more famous expeditions, current explorations and recent discoveries. Construction techniques are described, and the evidence for various methods is carefully considered. Lehner discusses methods of quarrying and transporting stone and other supplies to the sites of pyramids. There is also an account of the ‘company towns’ constructed for those working on the pyramids. *****
Verner, Miroslav. The Pyramids—the Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt’s Great Monuments
New York: Grove Press, 2001. 495 pages, profusely illustrated with line drawings and a section colour plates of little-known places.

Verner is a Czech working at the pyramids of Abusir. His interest is in the how of pyramids and no one is better at discussing the latest findings than he. The book begins with a discussion of the history of Egyptology and a sensible overview of the non-pyramidal royal tombs of the first two dynasties. Verner describes the various methods used to build pyramids, and contrasts these techniques. The last few chapters are concerned with the lesser-known pyramids of the Middle Kingdom. If you are really interested in pyramids, you will love this book! *****


Also recommended:

Arnold, Dieter. Building in Egypt: Pharaonic Stone Masonry
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

316 pages with index. Profusely illustrated with black and white photographs and line drawings. Not specifically about pyramids, this excellent book is nevertheless very useful for those interested in their construction. Arnold discusses the evidence for quarrying techniques, the locations of quarries, and the types of stones used, the tools and working methods of Egyptian architects and masons, the construction of pavements as foundations for pyramids, and the actual methods of laying the blocks of stone in various pyramids. This book is indispensable for those wishing to really understand the how of pyramid building. *****

David, Rosalie. The Pyramid Buildoers of Ancient Egypt—A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh's Workforce
London:Routledge & Kegan Paul , 1986.

Dr. David’s book is a fine antidote for those who would see pyramids built by Space Aliens or amazing ‘advanced machines’ or perhaps telepathy. She describes the remains of two towns built to house workers at the Middle Kingdom pyramids of Kahun and Lahun in the Faiyum. Each town had a district of big houses for the rich and powerful, and another of much smaller houses for those who worked on the pyramids. A great variety of artefacts, many now in the Manchester Museum, were discovered in the remains of these houses; furniture, toys, articles for personal adornment, tools and religious objects. Dr. David provides information on religious and legal practices as well, and compares the villagers of these towns to those of the better known worker-villages of Deir el Medina and Amarna. There is less material on the actual pyramids, and on their construction, though these topics are not totally neglected. Dr. David was interested in the men who built the pyramids, and more concerned with what they had for lunch (dates, fish, melons, nuts, and, presumably, bread and beer) than with the stones they hauled. *****

Dodson, Aidan. The Pyramids of Ancient Egypt
London: New Holland, 2003.

143 pages. Beautifully illustrated with colour plates and excellent line drawings. Many of the photos show pyramids that are very difficult to visit. Dodson’s clear and engaging prose and wonderful photos make this slender book a most valuable addition to the library on pyramids. There is a surprising amount of information, including the dimensions of each pyramid, its Arabic name, and the basis on which the attribution is made to a particular pharaoh. Excellent for children or adults. ****

Edwards, I.E.S. The Pyramids of Egypt
New York & London: Viking Penguin, 1985

This is a revised version of Edwards’ 1947 classic. 21 colour plates, 63 black and white, and sixty line drawings; 328 pages, with index. Dr. Edwards began with an overview of Egyptian history and religion, and then described the development of burial customs in Egypt, mastabas, step pyramids, and the development of the true pyramid. Old and Middle Kingdom pyramids are described, as well as the later Sudanese pyramids. Methods of construction are considered. The revised bibliographies for each chapter are very useful. ****

Jackson, Keven & Jonathan Stamp. Building the Great Pyramid
Toronto: Firefly Books, 2003

191 pages, profusely illustrated in colour and black and white. This book accompanies a BBC series of the same name. The focus is on the workers who build the pyramids as well as the kings who were buried in them. There are some rare photos and stills from the program. The history of the pyramids after Pharaonic times comes in for some interesting discussion. ***

Macaulay, David. Pyramid
Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1975

Graceful, informative, reasonable black and white drawings by Macaulay. For older children and sensible adults. This excellent book has a PBS Video companion, which is also highly recommended. Macaulay takes us though all the steps of building an unnamed, ‘generic’ pyramid which draws on aspects of the buildings of Khufu and Sahure. Fine drawings show the human scale of the work involved. Macaulay begins with the choice of a site and the sighting of the stars to accurately orient the pyramid, and continues through the construction of the pyramid and valley temple, to the royal funeral. A small glossary is included. A splendid beginning book. ****

Mendelssohn, Kurt. The Riddle of the Pyramids
New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1974

224 pages with index, illustrated with black and white plates and many line drawings. Mendelssohn, a physicist, was interested in construction methods, and examined Egyptian and Mexican pyramids from an engineering point of view. Though some of his theories have been disproven, the book, still in print, and readily available, is worth reading for its clear exploration of the physical problems in constructing a pyramid. **

Siliotti, Alberto. Guide to the Pyramids of Egypt
New York: Barnes & Noble, 1997

168 pages without index, but with a detailed table of contents; profusely illustrated with superb colour photos, line drawings and maps with a preface by Zahi Hawass. A beautiful gift book, this volume also contains a great deal of useful up-to-date information. It is clearly organized and easy to use for reference or pleasure reading. The preponderance of image over text can be disappointing if one is seeking specific information about a particular pyramid, but the books does provide an excellent introduction to the pyramids, and could in fact be used as a mildly unwieldy guide book on a visit to Egypt. ***

Smith, Craig B. How the Great Pyramid was Built
Washington: Smithsonian Books, 2004

228 pages. Line drawings and charts. Forward by Zahi Hawass. Smith is an engineer who worked on the restoration of the Pentagon after the 9/11 attack, and many other large public works projects. He approaches Khufu’s pyramid as an engineering project, and considers how it was done – what came first, what materials were needed, how was the workforce organized, and so on. He knows and discusses most theories of pyramid construction, sometimes agreeing, sometimes pointing out the engineering problems that would follow if this or that methods were used. Not at all a dry book, it’s surprisingly well written and enjoyable to read. Not to be missed. *****

Wildung, Dietrich. Egypt: From Prehistory to the Romans
Köln: Taschen, 1997

Large format book in the Taschen’s World Architecture Series, 237 pages, with index; profusely and beautifully illustrated with colour photos, maps, and drawings. With such a large topic, Wildung could not spend much time on pyramids, but the section on their construction is clear and helpful. His discussion of the complexes surrounding pyramids is particularly valuable. There is a clear and precise description of the features of the buildings and of the evidence for the method of their construction. **