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These books are a good starting point to give you insight and some different perspectives on Egypt, old and new. I have tried to stick mostly with books that are available at Diwan or the American University in Cairo Bookstore, but most should also be widely available elsewhere and online. Egyptian literature is a rich but little-known field, and the American University in Cairo Press has made its home in this niche. Serious readers will find a morning browsing the shelves of the downtown branch of its bookstore time well spent.

  • Ahmed Fakhry, Bahariyah and Farafra (American University in Cairo Press, 2003): It's worth getting the second edition of this classic by this multifaceted archaeologist/architect (rather than the 1974 edition) for its brief but informative introduction by Tony Mills.

  • Alaa Al Aswany, Yacoubian Building (Harper, 2006): This book, and the film made of it, kicked up some dust in Egypt for its frank look at the lives of a cross-section of contemporary Cairene society.

  • Andre Raymond, Cairo: City of History (American University in Cairo Press, 2001): One of the classic histories of the city -- a must-read if you have the time and are going to be doing any walking through Cairo. Originally published in French in 1993, Willard Wood's translation is extremely readable.

  • Christian Jacq, The Battle of Kadesh (Grand Central Publishing, 1998): This is a ripping yarn of a tale, and the middle of a five-book series about Ramses II, a Pharaoh for whom this French Egyptologist seems to have a particular penchant.

  • Edward Said, Out of Place (Vintage Books, 1999): This is a little slice of life from 1940s Cairo -- the recollections of an oddly privileged childhood from one of the more interesting commentators on the colonial and post-colonial experience.

  • E. M. Forster, Alexandria: A History and a Guide (American University in Cairo Press, 2004): What better travel companion than the great E. M. Forster? Travel back in time without leaving your armchair and listen as he awards "the palm of gentility" to Rosetta Street for the "refined monotony of its architecture." A great book, but be prepared for disappointment if you read it before you go to the city.

  • Fathi Malim, Siwa: From the Inside (Katan Books, 2001): This is a short-but-fascinating look at Siwa by a resident. You're not going to read this stuff anywhere else.

  • Maria Golia, Cairo: City of Sand (Reaktion Books, 2004): Golia's engaging and incisive writing describes the experience of living in modern Cairo. This is a great airplane read and a gentle introduction to what Cairo is really about.

  • Max Rodenbeck, Cairo: The City Victorious (Vintage, 2000): Sweeping, amusing, and intimate, Rodenbeck's highly readable volume on Cairo gets under the skin of the city like no other.

  • Nabil Shawkat, Breakfast with the Infidels (Dar Merit, 2006): The lightly off-the-wall observations of an ex-national columnist, screen writer, and bon vivant offer a new perspective on the Egyptian experience.

  • Naguib Mahfouz, The Cairo Trilogy: Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street (American University in Cairo Press, 2001): Mahfouz, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, traces the lives of three generations of an early-20th-century family. A classic, and indispensable, read for anyone seriously interested in Cairo.

  • Naguib Mahfouz, Adrift on the Nile (American University in Cairo Press, 1999): If you don't have the time to get through a thick tome, this is one of the slimmest and most readable of Mahfouz's oeuvre. It tells the tale of a group of louche Bohemian wannabes and their drug-addled evenings on a Nile houseboat.

  • Nawal Saadawi, The Hidden Face of Eve (Zed Books, 2007): Saadawi, a medical doctor from a large, rural, Egyptian family, is uniquely positioned to offer not-always-cheerful insights into the position of women in Egypt.

  • Neil Hewison, The Fayoum: History and Guide (American University in Cairo Press, 2001): A short-but-solid guide to the Fayoum by a long-term resident of Egypt.

  • Nesreen Khashan, Encounters with the Middle East (Travelers' Tales, 2007): This will give you a bit more of a regional perspective, and the sections on Cairo and Egypt are good and readable. Excellent for some pre-departure perspective.

  • Nicholas Warner, Guide to the Gayer-Anderson Museum (American University in Cairo Press, 2006): An in-depth look at this extraordinary collection, and an indispensable companion on your tour.

  • Ralph Bagnold, Libyan Sands: Travel in a Dead World (Immel, 1987): Originally published in 1935, Bagnold's accounts of his early adventures on the Sinai and later exploration of the Western Desert are the perfect read for anyone who has caught the desert bug, and it may infect those who haven't.

  • Robert Armour, Gods and Myths of Ancient Egypt (American University in Cairo Press, 1986): This is a handy guide that you can shove in your backpack and use as a who's-who as you wander through tombs.

  • Salima Ikram, Divine Creatures (American University in Cairo Press, 2005): Everything that you ever wanted to know about mummies (and then some), with a twist: These are mummified animals, buried with their owners or just on their own.

  • Samir Raafat, Cairo, the Glory Years (Harpocrates, 2003): Really the only book out there on the villas of 19th-century Cairo; Raafat knows his stuff.

  • Sonallah Ibrahim, Zaat (American University in Cairo Press, 2004): Deliciously biting satire from my favorite living Egyptian novelist. Not only is it more readable than most of his competitors, it will give you a distinct sense of the ironies and perplexities of life in this country.

  • T. G. H. James, Howard Carter: The Path to Tutankhamun (Tauris, 1992): This is far more of a tour through the world of 19th- and early-20th-century archaeology -- the people, the places, and the things -- than the title suggests. Not a quick read, but well worth some time.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.