Book Review – When Women Ruled the World

Hello hello and welcome or welcome back to my little bookish corner of the internet. Today I’m sharing my review of the non-fiction book, When Women Ruled the World.

This riveting narrative explores the lives of six remarkable female pharaohs, from Hatshepsut to Cleopatra – women who ruled with real power – and shines a piercing light on our own perceptions of women in power today.

Female rulers are a rare phenomenon – but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity, queens like Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, and Cleopatra controlled the totalitarian state as power brokers and rulers. But throughout human history, women in positions of power were more often used as political pawns in a male-dominated society. 

What was so special about ancient Egypt that provided women this kind of access to the highest political office? What was it about these women that allowed them to transcend patriarchal obstacles? What did Egypt gain from its liberal reliance on female leadership, and could today’s world learn from its example? 

Celebrated Egyptologist Kara Cooney delivers a fascinating tale of female power, exploring the reasons why it has seldom been allowed through the ages and why we should care.

It’s sometimes really hard to review non-fiction books, but this one is easy to have opinions on. It was such a book to get lost in, and I was utterly transfixed by everything the author has to say.

I’ve been a big fan of Kara Cooney for a while, but it’s taken me a while to get around to reading this. With it being on audiobook, I was able to enjoy a trip through time despite all my Egyptology books being boxed up, and that was such a good feeling. It’s been way too long since I read one, and I can’t wait to get my collection back.

Cooney gives strong opinions on her six rulers of Egypt, and about the power struggle that continues in the world today, pressing women into shapes they’re not comfortable with even now. It’s been a long journey for women in the modern era, finding their place and their power, and Cooney demonstrates how women in the even the reasonably open minded ancient world of Egypt still kept strict rules for how and when a woman could be allowed to rule.

Perhaps controversially, Cooney presents her opinion and evidence for Nefertiti being the little known Smenkare, a ruler between the ‘heratic king’ Ahkenaten and the all too famous Tutankhamun. While I was curious to hear her opinions and knowledge on all six of the women mentioned in this book, it was maybe this chapter that got me thinking the most.

Overall, this was a wonderful read, and a very accessible one at that. There’s enough here for people with some Egyptology knowledge to still benefit from it, yet it manages to also be a book that the ‘everyday’ curious mind could find themselves loving as well. The audiobook here is again an advantage as if you are not familiar with Egyptian pronouncinations, this does that bit for you!

Thanks for stopping by for this review today. This manages to combine my two big loves in life, Egyptology and books, and I’m glad to be sharing it with you.



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