Paperback: The Complete Valley of the Kings, by Nicholas Reeves & Richard H Wilkinson

Thames & hudson £14.95 (224pp)
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The Independent Culture

Packed with astonishing illustrations – the wall painting of "Hathor, Mistress of the West" still radiates sexiness after 3,000 years – and a wealth of tomb plans and photographs, this lively book is the perfect guide for armchair travellers and those who actually make it to this vast Egyptian necropolis. The valley has drawn well-heeled tourists since classical times, all eager for a supernatural frisson. One must-see for Romans was the great statues known as the Colossi of Memnon that would emit "an eerie tone each dawn" as the sun warmed them. The authors provide a punchy account of the progressive discovery of the valley by such driven characters as Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was plagued by his previous career as a circus strongman, and the slave-driving American financier Theodore M Davis. The book is at its best when it guides the visitor down symbolically tortuous passageways to the remarkably well-preserved remains of these distant potentates. From a chilling relief of Osiris, god of the dead, to a depiction of the constellations recognisable by any modern fan of horoscopes, it reveals a world that is profoundly alien but with oddly familiar aspects.

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