The Heretical Power Couple

Title: Egypt’s Golden Couple: When Akhenaten and Nefertiti Were Gods on Earth
Authors: John Darnell & Colleen Darnell
Genre: History
Pages: 384
Rating: 4 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review – Publication date: 11/1/22).

If you know only one Egyptian Pharaoh, it’s probably “King Tut” (thanks either to the treasures of his fabulous un-plundered tomb or the musical stylings of Steve Martin). This book offers an opportunity to meet his father, the enigmatic “heretic king” Akhenaten as well as Akhenaten’s principal wife, Nefertiti. The book opens with two radically different portraits of Akhenaten: enlightened sun-worshiping monotheist vs. incompetent, nation-destroying pedophile. The authors attempt to sift through these sorts of dramatic claims and produce a believable portrait of this couple, grounded in primary sources.

One big thing that I took away from this book is just how much of Egyptology is painstaking comparison that fuels semi-speculative interpretation of fragmentary, ambiguous writing/art. The portrait that emerges from the authors’ research and interpretation seems balanced and genuinely based on evidence rather than driven by an agenda to present a specific portrait.

As far as writing style, I could have done without the “TV docudrama” style chapter intros and random insertions of “now let us describe one of our field expeditions,” but those may add interest for some people. Overall, Akhenaten’s odd artwork and henotheistic religious reforms are a fascinating part of Egyptian history, and this is a nice balanced take on them. Highly recommended for those interested in Egyptology!