On the bookshelf

There’s a huge range of material published about gardening; and probably even more published about Egypt ancient and modern. Here are a few thoughts on English-language resources that I have found useful:

GARDENING

Books from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, e.g. Vegetable and Fruit Gardening; Encyclopedia of Herbs; published by Dorling Kindersley (DK). Wouldn’t be without them!

Organic Gardening The natural no-dig way – Charles Dowding, pub. green books. Interesting, practical, no-nonsense.

Grow Organic – from Garden Organic, a UK charity, pub. DK. Useful, practical, not just veg, fruit and herbs, but flower beds are in there too.

The Maria Thun Biodynamic Calendar – pub. annually, Floris Books. Day-by-day guide to what can or cannot be done in the garden, following the lunar cycle.

GARDENING: THE MIDDLE EAST

Gardening in the Middle East – Eric Moore, pub. Stacey International. Helpful guide to preparing soil, choosing suitable plants according to region, caring for them; bugs and pests; plant encyclopaedia.

Tropical and Subtropical Plants – Frances Perry and Roy Hay, pub. Ward Lock. Guide to identifying plants, their properties and uses. Good photos. Useful.

The Desert Garden – Irina Springuel, pub. American University in Cairo (AUC) Press – a specialist guide to cultivation in a desert habitat in Egypt.

PLANTS/TREES

The Secret Life of Trees – Colin Tudge, Penguin Books. Absorbing, well-written and filled with fascinating info.

RHS Botany for Gardeners – pub. Mitchell Beazley.

The Kew Plant Glossary – Henk Beentje, pub. Kew Publishing. Nitty-gritty reference, some of it way over my head.

Desert Plants of Egypt’s Wadi El Gemal National Park – Tamer Mahmoud, pub. AUC Press. Guide to the plant life and communities of a national park on the Red Sea coast south of Marsa Alam. Well illustrated directory of plants and maps of their distribution in the park. Interesting for details of how local people use the plants in their daily lives, e.g the acacia tree provides fodder, wood for fires, a gum used in treating stomach ailments and eye infections.

EXPLORING EGYPT

It’s probably best to forget about EM Forster, Lawrence Durrell and all that jazz from the early C20; and maybe to avoid getting hung up on the vast Napoleonic “Description de l’Egypte”. There are some wonderful, modern resources to help you navigate the country’s extraordinary history and amazing culture. Here’s a selection of some of the best in print:

GENERAL GUIDES

Blue, Lonely Planet, Rough – take your pick. Depends how you want the info presented. Straightforward: go with the Blue; occasionally raffish – try the Rough. Michael Haag has also produced a Guide to Egypt.

N.B. There are also useful Illustrated Guides to various important sites in Cairo, e.g. the pyramids, National Museum and Coptic Museum, pub. AUC Press.

HISTORY

The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt – Toby Wilkinson, pub. Bloomsbury. Well written and comprehensive account, highly readable.

An Introduction to Ancient Egypt – TGH James, pub. British Museum Press. General overview.

Life in Paradise – Zahi Hawass, pub. AUC Press. Arguably a coffee table book, but superbly illustrated and well worth the investment.

The Illustrated Dictionary of Ancient Egypt – Ian Shaw and Paul Nicholson, AUC Press. Great reference book, with generous supply of diagrams, maps and photos.

Cairo: The City Victorious – Max Rodenbeck, pub. Picador. Excellent history of Cairo in its many guises from ancient times, drawing on the writings of chroniclers and travellers over the centuries.

SPECIALIST

The Art of Ancient Egypt – Gay Robins, AUC Press. Beautiful exploration of Egyptian art from the Old Kingdom to the late period.

The Medicine of the Ancient Egyptians – Eugen Strouhal, Bretislav Vachala, Hana Vymazalova, pub. AUC Press. Useful – though some weird stuff in there!

Ancient Egyptian Medicine – John F. Nunn, pub. British Museum Press. A medic’s eye view. Many problems of identifying ancient plants with certainty.

An Ancient Egyptian Herbal – Lise Manniche, pub. AUC Press. A very good introduction outlining the gardens and natural resources of the ancient Egyptians; useful reference section despite problems with identification of plants.

The Pharaoh’s Kitchen – Magda Mehdawy and Amr Hussein, pub. AUC Press. Interesting insights; plenty of recipes (though “lotus “blossoms may not be so easy to find in the local market!) Illustrated.

For literary sources, see the 3-volume series “Ancient Egyptian Literature” pub. University of California Press.

For specialist studies of ancient Egypt, as interesting as they are challenging, you might try books authored or edited by Jan Assmann, Professor of Egyptology at Heidelberg University in Germany – e.g The Mind of Egypt, pub. Harvard University Press.

EGYPTIAN WRITERS – translated into English

My preference is for writers of an older generation, such as Tawfiq Al-Hakim (playwright and novelist). More prolific was novelist and commentator Naguib Mahfouz, whose works I rarely read; but since he won the Nobel Prize, I think he should be mentioned! Many Egyptian novels were published in the past by Heinemann in the African Writers series; their works now appear under the impress of the AUC. For modern/contemporary writers, try Alaa Al-Aswany (The Yacoubian Building; Chicago), or the late Radwa Ashour. Warning: not all authors are well served by their translators. Writing in English is Ahdaf Soueif, whose romantic The Map of Love (pub. Bloomsbury) is a modern exploration of the ancient Osiris myth.