The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney (Review #8)

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney 


An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt’s throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt’s second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.


I have been wanting to read this book for ages as I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt and have always been interested in Hatshepsut. My wonderful husband bought me the book for Christmas so I decided it would be my nonfiction read of February. 

Hatshepsut was an amazing woman and one who was unrivalled for hundreds of years but as usual she was also a woman who was driven out of history. Due to the destruction of her statues, monuments and building projects a lot of her history is lost so Cooney has had to do some educated guesswork about certain aspects of Hatshepsut’s life. Cooney explains her reasoning for the guesswork and it is clear that it is all backed by what she knows about the period in history and also by the evidence of Hatshepsut’s life that does thankfully still survive. 

Cooney’s writing is packed full of information but it is still an easy read that doesn’t make you feel bogged down with information. It almost reads in places like historical fiction but it isn’t. The only criticism that I do have and it did start to drive me a little crazy was the repetition. Cooney would tell you a fact then repeat it either on the next page or a few pages along and it really wasn’t necessary. I started to find myself sighing and thinking why are you telling me this again when you have literally just told me, I don’t need to be told again but with slightly different wording. I will definitely read more books by Cooney and I give this book 4 out of 5 Dragons. 


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About the author

Dr. Kathlyn M. Cooney aka Dr. Kara Cooney is an Egyptologist and Assistant Professor of Egyptian Art and Architecture at UCLA. She was awarded a PhD in 2002 by Johns Hopkins University for Near Eastern Studies. She was part of an archaeological team excavating at the artisans’ village of Deir el Medina in Egypt, as well as Dahshur and various tombs at Thebes.

In 2002 she was Kress Fellow at the National Gallery of Art and worked on the preparation of the Cairo Museum exhibition Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. She was a member of the teaching staff at Stanford and Howard University. In 2005, she acted as fellow curator for Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Raised in Houston, she obtained her B.A. from the University of Texas.

She worked on two Discovery Channel documentary series: Out of Egypt, first aired in August 2009, and Egypt’s Lost Queen, which also featured Dr. Zahi Hawass.



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