A Brief History of Egypt by Arthur Goldschmidt Jr. '55. The story of Egypt is a sweep through 12,000 years of history and about 5,000 years of recorded history. The authoritative voice of this book presents a comprehensive introduction to this intricate chronicle. The great icons of Egypt that we all know date from before the Common Era: the natural wonder of the annual flooding of the banks of the Nile, a built-in irrigation system, and the manmade wonders of the pyramids and sphinx. In the shadow of this glory, I find the following sentence the saddest in the book: "In 525 B. C. E. Egypt ceased to be ruled by Egyptians." It was not until 1952, so many centuries later, that the Egyptians regained control of their own country. A succession of foreign powers held sway: the Persians, the Macedonians, the Romans, and the Ottomans until finally the British.
Though the whole history is rife with ferment, the last fifty years have been particularly fraught with wars and internal strife. Control of the Suez Canal (its construction in the 19th century a sticky subject itself), conflict with Israel over the Sinai, and assassinations of leaders have contributed to a factionalized political situation. The book goes up until 2007, with Mubarak still at the helm. No one could imagine the harrowing years that ensued. Today's Times has a major story about Egyptian fears that a huge new dam in Ethiopia could destroy Egyptian control of the Nile. So the troubled history continues. Arthur emphasizes the resilience and strength of the people. Their geographical position has destined them to a role as a strategic target. They have been buffeted by many powers, including the United States. Americans can scarcely imagine what it must feel like to have your cultural roots date back thousands of years. Perhaps the Egyptians are buoyed by their long history of endurance.