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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on December 12, 2003
The writer brings a journalistic approach to the topic of mummies and the sub-title of the book clearly defines the multiple angles she chose to follow. She covers a great deal of territory, both geographically (all the continents except Antarctica) historically, psychologically and morally.
In a sense this is almost an "Encyclopedia of the Mummy" because it covers so many aspects of mummy hunting, dissecting and preserving. Most mummy hunters seem obsessed by their quest. They may be after mummies for scientific, historic, theatric or religious reasons, but hunt them they must. This raises moral issues; after all these were once human beings that we are putting on display, slicing for DNA or just carting off to some museums storage room. Can we justify it if we, say, understand some disease better after the research? Or is it just voyeurism for us all to know what the Iceman ate for his last meal?
The writer introduces us to individual mummy hunters, strong characters all, and the unusual places they work. Her writing is clear and vivid, if a trifle long. She is at her best describing the moral and psychological issues surrounding our fascination with mummies and the way they relate to our own mortality anf hopes for immmortality.
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on May 9, 2002
A great book about a weird topic. HP makes some very telling insights about mummies as dead people yet also as natural objects. She reports some very affecting anecdotes about both the mummies and the people who study them, and at the same time tells us a tremendous amount about the science of mummy study. A treat.
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on April 4, 2002
This was a great book. I purchased it to help with a paper I'm writing for a class on mummies at the New School in NY. You will take a trip around the world as the author invesitgates mummification. The book is also great if you want to read about a specific area, each chapter stands alone. I enjoyed it so much I plan to purchase her other works.
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on March 13, 2002
I picked up this book recently at the library. And then I couldn't put it down. Author Heather Pringle manages to keep the pace lively throughout this book; not that the subject matters hurts either.
I didn't know much about mummies going into this book, except how the ancient Egyptians prepared theirs. "The Mummy Congress" soon put an end to my ignorance, and in a very amusing, captivating way. In the book, we are introduced to the mummy experts and their beloved mummies in detail. Pringle pulls no punches in her descriptions of the people or the ethcial dilemmas they sometimes face. She also gives the reader a multitude of lessons in mummies. Did you know that some of the paintings you may see in museums were painted with a pigment called Mummy -- made out of ground mummies? Did you know that there are many mummies in South America which tell us how the culture faced grief? Did you know that caucasians once lived in China? Read this book, and you'll learn many such facts. The best thing is that Pringle doesn't write for the expert; she's writing for those of us with an interest, but no experience. And she manages to do it in an entertaining way. I couldn't find any dull parts in this book. So, read it and be amazed at the ancient worlds and people you'll get to know. I can't recommend this book highly enough!
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on February 2, 2002
Pringle displays ample skill as a non-fiction writer: careful word choice, an eye for metaphor and a keen facility for description. She straddles the gap between what she calls " the everlasting dead" and the living (if marginally so, in some cases) who love them, and gives shape to our obsession with styxian realms. The reader experiences vivid cross-sections of what must be an enormous world, the world of mummies: from Lenin's waxy vestiges in his mausoleum to ancient Danes exhumed by nature from their boggy preservation to the brittle clay remains of Peruvian children. Pringle provides wonderful texture to a fascinating and bizarre (nether)world. One wonders why a comprehensive treatment of the subject for lay people has heretofore not been attempted.
Yet, for all the excellent writing and compelling subject matter, Pringle's work lacks falls just short of the last yard: a unifying spiritual theme, a thread of allegory to tie it all together and leave a more permanent impression. One gets the sense that she is curious about mummies and their students, but not consumed by them, not possessed by them. She does not love them, and so cannot make them and her work a transcendent experience, as it so rightly should be. And she comes so close.
Still, this book is a very welcome addition to my scientific non-fiction shelf, and one I will return to again and again.
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on January 17, 2002
The clever and winsome Heather Pringle has succeded in writing a simply wonderful account of the quaint practice of preserving people after their death. Some mummies are probably preserved more by accident rather than intention while others are the subjects of elaborate embalming (cf Nature 413:837-841, 2001). She has included all manner of ancient remains and although her knowledge of paleo-PCR and RNA signatures from reverse transcription is somewhat ephemeral she has done both her footwork and her homework very well. One bizarre practice, that of preserving "wet" modern day mummies in liquid nitrogen in the uninformed belief that they can somehow be resurrected at sometime in the future demonstrates the continued gullibility of the ignorant.
Another emerging technology not mentioned is in preserving bone marrow stem cells or other somatic cells in the frozen state for eventual cloning by nuclear transfer. Cells from at least one former president rest in a freezer somewhere (but without the intention of eventual cloning).
Be that as it may, Pringle's book is a wellspring of information on the philosophy and practice of preserving the human body.
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on January 3, 2002
The Mummy Congress is as dramatic as it sounds. The cover photo is arresting & you have got to wonder what these "leading mummy experts" are like? What are their passions? How much intrigue can you squeeze from a perfectly preserved 2000 year old body? Ah, let Heather Pringle tell you!
This is one weird read! Well written, amusing & informative about a world within a world filled with intrigue, humor & thoughts about the preservation of this bag of bones in which we walk our lives & the records, myths & stories of why we do it.
Funnily enough, after traipsing all around the world on the heels of the mummy archaeologists, soaking up their stories & their passions, Heather Pringle learned that when they were asked if they would choose to be mummified, most said no, with quaint sincerity, because they wouldn't want to be stared at in museums or examined by curious scientists.
Fascinating! Changed my mind about eternity, anorexia, grief & where the soul might really dwell!
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on November 17, 2001
The Mummy is a history of the practice of mummification. We tend to think of this as a purely Egyptian phenomenon, but that isn't the case at all. Other civilisations have sought to cheat death in the same way. Even in the modern era we find the preserved bodies of Lenin and Mao and other lesser political corpses still leering over the people they once ruled. The centuries have also presented us with an enormous numbers of cases of bodies being preserved by purely natural means - the most obvious example being the frozen corpse of a neolithic hunter found recently in the Alps and also the many preserved bodies dug up from peat bogs and the like.
Heather Pringle examines these and many other cases with enormous humour and gusto and, it must be admitted, just a little bit of grue. I found it absolutely riveting.
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on November 10, 2001
Heather Pringle's "The Mummy Congress" is one of the best science books for the general reader in a long time. The framework of the book is the author's report from a scientific conference held by the World Conference on Mummy Studies. Pringle introduces not only the latest scientific research into mummies, but the scientists themselves who have devoted their lives to studying the "everlasting dead". She also introduces some of the ethical problems of mummy research: to autopsy or not to autopsy, to display or not to display.
This book is not just about Egyptian mummies. Despite the fact that the word "mummy" comes from Arabic and was first applied to the Egyptian practice, there are mummies all over the world. The oldest mummies are found in South America. For the World Conference on Mummy Studies, any preserved human dead is worthy of attention: bog bodies from Europe, frozen bodies in the world's highest mountains, preserved Communist dictators, and even future mummies preserved by cryonics. Pringle also looks into the recent history of ancient mummies: collector-mania and using mummies for medicine and paint (!).
If you think you would never want to read a book about mummies, this is the book for you. Informative, interesting, and very well-written, "The Mummy Congress" is destined to become a classic.
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on October 10, 2001
Author Heather Pringle brings mummies and their mummyologists into the homes AND hearts of the reader with a style that is easy to welcome in! It is apparent that she is neither an expert nor an ingnoramous but rather an interested party when it comes to mummies. She is "one of us". Sure we encounter the "usual suspects", just in a different manner. The reader gets to meet Egyptian mummies, just who knew that they were "hard-as stone" resinous creatures. We also meet frozen Peruvian Princesses protected by obsessed mountain climbing antisocial scientists who endanger their existence by their very discovery. What about Caucasian mummies in China! Look out China, here come those Germans thinking they discovered EVERYTHING again! And the chapter on Lenin and the Soviet Mortuary Scientists is absolutely fantastic!! This is certainly a terrific and highly recommended narrative, a light-hearted and very informative look at the modern world of mummies, mummy studies, and mummyologists.
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