When Women Ruled the World

Author: Kara Cooney
Category: Non-Fiction
Pages: 400
Publication Date: October 30th, 2018

“Female rulers are a rare phenomenon–but thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt, women reigned supreme. Regularly, repeatedly, and with impunity…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?”

When Women Ruled the World is a great look at the rise to power of six women in Ancient Egypt. One of the things that have fascinated me about Ancient Egypt is the culture’s relationship and treatment of women. While still very much a patriarchal society, Egyptian women had more rights than their contemporaries in other parts of the world. They had the right to own property and the right to a divorce; things women in most of the world would not dream of being able to have and do.

Unfortunately, the records for a lot of the time periods involved are so vague and inscriptions have been struck through and marked over so many times in some cases that a lot of what is known is conjecture and generalizations. Because of this, there are a lot of “maybes” and “perhaps” in telling the story of individuals from thousands of years ago. This did get a little tiring to read at time but ultimately it is just part of the nature of the topic. 

One of the things that Cooney generalizes fairly frequently is that women were needed at specific points in history for their tendency to avoid risk and avoid fights. While obviously not every woman falls into that generalization, it makes sense that a woman taking a man’s place in a patriarchy must step carefully. Everything she touches must turn to gold or it would be her name stricken from the temples and tombs. 

I felt like Cooney did a wonderful job at walking the reader through what life was life for these women and the circumstances that birthed their opportunities to rise to power. Many times the circumstances went back several generations and were quite complicated but I always felt like it was a story being told, reading about their lives never felt dry to me at all. 

For someone like me that enjoys reading about ancient cultures but maybe doesn’t know too much about them, I think is a great place to start. It not only explores these six women but also touches on various facets of Ancient Egyptian culture in a way that is very engaging and easy to read.


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