Books to Read While Visiting Egypt

Egypt. The word alone conjures up so many thoughts and ideas. From the Pyramids to Cleopatra, everyone knows some stories about ancient Egypt. The mythology of Pharaohs, the annual flood of the Nile, and so much more leave ancient Egypt as somewhat mysterious.

If you’re going to Egypt, or just interested in learning more about the country, these books will let you imagine life as a Pharaoh – or a commoner!

The inside of a temple in Egypt

    • Death Comes as the End Agatha Christie spent some time in Egypt, and it clearly stuck with her in the books that came out of it! Death Comes as the End is one of her few books set in ancient times, which makes it all the more interesting!
    • Death on the Nile This is another Agatha Christie novel, but Death on the Nile is in the famous Hercule Poirot series. Even if you haven’t read the other books in the series, you’ll be able to latch onto the mystery in the book. And if you’re reading this because you’re visiting, I highly recommend making reservations for High Tea at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Agatha Christie sat on the patio while writing this book!
    • The Memoirs of Cleopatra One of the many books about Cleopatra, what I like about The Memoirs of Cleopatra is that it’s written in the first person perspective – as if it’s truly Cleopatra’s history. It makes it so much easier to immerse yourself in the ideas of Egyptian court life, and all of the politics involved with that!
    • Flow Down Like Silver: Hypatia of Alexandria This book is set a little bit later than most of the others. Flow Down Like Silver is set in the Roman era where Christianity has spread. Hypatia is a teacher of the pagan rights in Alexandria, and she’s killed by a mob of Christians. This is an interesting look at a different side of the spread of Christianity than is traditional.
    • Nefertiti After Cleopatra, the Egyptian Pharaoh you’ve most likely heard of is Nefertiti. She’s another of the storied and strong women in the history of Egypt, and this novel digs into an account of how she became queen. It digs into how she reigned as well the family dynamics that always ruled the royals in Egypt. It’s an easy read, and one that provides a lot of context for a trip to Egypt.
    • Antony & Cleopatra Shakespeare’s play Antony & Cleopatra is one of the key ways Cleopatra is remembered throughout history. His portrayal of Cleopatra as a sultry and conniving woman is the one that’s stuck through history. This play has shaped so many impressions of the fall of the Roman Republic and Cleopatra herself, it’s worth reading the original.
    • The Egyptian This is an old classic, and The Egyptian was actually considered obscene when it was released in 1949! It’s a wide-ranging novel that follows Sinuhe on his journey to becoming physician to the Pharaoh. If you want to immerse yourself in the wider known world of ancient Egypt, this is the book to read!
    • Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales As a European or North American, this book can feel like reading The Tales of Beedle The Bard – it’s all sorts of stories that are fun to read and set in a culture completely unlike the one you’ve known. Voices from the Other World is a collection of stories that have been passed down through Egyptian history. It’s written by Naguib Mahfouz, one of the most celebrated and well-known Egyptian authors. You should read this for two reasons if you’re headed to Egypt. One, it’s a great introduction to the ancient stories. Two – reading Mahfouz (this or another of his books) is a great way to feel a connection with a local writer.
    • The Heretic Queen While you might have seen the pictures of the main temple at Abu Simbel to Ramses II, it’s unlikely you’ve seen pictures of the second, smaller temple at the site. It’s a temple to his beloved wife, Nefertari (yes, she’s related to Nefertiti). The Heretic Queen is a fictional account of her rise to power, but it’s a powerful one to read, especially if you’re headed to the temples at Abu Simbel.
    • The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt Hatshepsut Temple was one of my favorite temples in Egypt, and her story is so much more fascinating than her temple. In The Woman Who Would Be King, you can see how she took the throne (and even dressed as a man, when required), in order to be in power. She was revered in her life and quickly scorned after, so this fascinating account sheds light on her story. It’s nonfiction, but it’s so consuming it reads like a novel!
    • Cleopatra: A Life In this book, Stacey Schiff tries to separate the factual Cleopatra from the fictionalized version that has been passed down through history. In Cleopatra: A Life, you can get a better feel for who she was. It also dives into exactly what she might have been doing with both Caesar and Antony, and gives a great view of the politics of the era. I loved reading this on the shores of the Red Sea! One note though – if you’re looking for books to illuminate the sights you’re going to see in Egypt, this will not do much for you there.
    • Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs: A Popular History of Ancient Egypt This is very much a history book, but it’s a great survey of Egyptian history. If you’re looking for just one book to read to help give you the background of all the sites you’ll go to, Temples, Tombs & Hieroglyphs is a great choice!
    • The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen Howard Carter’s Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen is the memoir written by Carter himself of how the discovery was made. Given that finding King Tut’s tomb is what ignited so much of our modern-day interest in ancient Egypt, this book is a must-read. I loved being in the Valley of the Kings on a hot summer day, just imaging Carter and his team trying to find archaeological wonders. This book helps you imagine how exactly it happened.
    • The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt: The History of a Civilization from 3000 BC to Cleopatra This is another book that’s very much a history book, but The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt is written in a narrative style that doesn’t make it feel like reading a textbook. This is another awesome choice if you want one book to read as a survey of the whole country.
    • Egyptian Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Goddesses, and Traditions of Ancient Egypt Given that the vast majority of sites you’ll see in Egypt are either temples or tombs, having a background knowledge of Egyptian Mythology is useful. This also illuminates a lot of the stories behind the iconography your guides are sure to point out. It’s also helpful to get used to the names of the Egyptian gods and goddesses before you get there. It’s hard to keep them all straight if you’re new to it!
    • Exodus As one of the key books for two of the three major monotheistic religions in the world, this book is worth a re-read if you’re headed to Egypt. If you’ve always read it in a religious context, or if you haven’t read it in a religious context, this is a good book about Egypt when viewed as history. So much of Egyptian history and the history we write about is the Pharoahs and gods and goddesses – not about the slaves who made the wonders of Egypt possible.

If you’re ready to discover more about Egypt, check out my Egypt Bucket List.

And if you’re just looking for book recommendations, check out my books to read in Italy and books to read while backpacking Southeast Asia!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy something, I may get a portion of the proceeds. This helps with the costs of keeping the site up. Thanks!

The ultimate Egypt reading list with 17 books to read before you visit