Empress of the Nile: The Daredevil Archaeologist Who Saved Egypt’s Ancient Temples from Destruction by Lynne Olson #2023Books #HistoryBooks #Egyptology

In the 1960s, the world’s attention was focused on a nail-biting race against Fifty countries contributed nearly a billion dollars to save a dozen ancient Egyptian temples, built during the height of the pharaohs’ rule, from drowning in the floodwaters of the massive new Aswan High Dam. But the extensive press coverage at the time overlooked the gutsy French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples would now be at the bottom of a vast reservoir. It was an unimaginably large and complex project that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt on higher ground.

A willful real-life version of Indiana Jones, Desroches-Noblecourt refused to be cowed by anyone or anything. During World War II she joined the French Resistance and was held by the Nazis; in her fight to save the temples she challenged two of the postwar world’s most daunting leaders, Egypt’s President Nasser and France’s President de Gaulle. As she told a reporter, “You don’t get anywhere without a fight, you know.”

Yet Desroches-Noblecourt was not the only woman who played an essential role in the historic endeavor. The other was Jacqueline Kennedy, who persuaded her husband to call on Congress to help fund the rescue effort. After years of Western plunder of Egypt’s ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt did the opposite. She helped preserve a crucial part of Egypt’s cultural heritage and made sure it remained in its homeland.

Empress of the Nile (AMazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible.com) (AbeBooks Used Book Marketplace)

Egyptology has always fascinated me. At one point in my youth, I dreamed of being an archaeologist instead of a sleuth like Nancy Drew. While I outgrew that dream, I remained interested in the topic. I saw Empress of the Nile on Goodreads before it was published and was intrigued about what seemed like an Indiana Jones-type adventure.

Christiane Desroches was a very successful archeologist in a time when there weren’t many women in the field. Not just a biography of Desroches, this is also a history of saving the temple of Abu Simbel from the floodwaters of the Aswan dam. I knew nothing of this subject going in, and learned a lot along the way.

What I found interesting, as an American, was the involvement of Jackie Kennedy in the efforts of saving the temple. She worked tirelessly behind the scenes, and President Kennedy himself was interested in saving the temple. Both Jacqueline and Christiane were never really given their due at the time, but they are responsible for helping save the cultural legacy of ancient Egypt.

I didn’t get the Indiana Jones adventure I was expecting, yet it was no less thrilling to learn of the saving of these important monuments for the history of all mankind. I’m so glad more and more stories of the women of history are coming to light so we can appreciate the impact women made and are still making to this day.

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