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The Millionaire and the Mummies: Theodore…

The Millionaire and the Mummies: Theodore Davis's Gilded Age in the…

by John M. Adams

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Before Howard Carter and King Tut, Theodore Davis was the preeminent Egyptologist in the world. Davis became rich in the late 19th century as many Gilded Age millionaires did, by fraud and corruption, and once he made his fortune, he chose to spend his money financing digs in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. He found 18 tombs, stopping just short of Tutankhamen and thus having his work overshadowed by Carter. Davis gave most of his finds to museums, either the Egyptian Museum or the Metropolitan in New York. This book takes six of his most important discoveries, and interweaves them with Davis' life story from childhood to death. It's a fascinating life, although I wasn't a fan of the bouncing back and forth in time. Regardless, I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in Egyptology, or even American history of that time. ( )
  tloeffler | May 16, 2014 |
I grabbed this book because I have always been fascinated by Ancient Egypt and Egyptology and was looking forward to reading about excavations and tombs that were not associated with King Tut. The Millionaire and the Mummies proved to be just the book that I needed, as it meticulously details the life and discoveries of the man overshadowed by King Tut and Howard Carter, but the man who proved to be the most prolific patron of excavations in Egypt., Theodore Davis.
From the start it is obvious that the author, John M. Adams, has a particular passion for Davis and his work and the book is meticulously researched and cited. The narrative style is great as well as he interspersed a basic biography of Davis with the stories of his most famous excavations. We learn about the methods (and pitfalls) of early twentieth century archaeology -- still a science in its infancy-- as well as the methods and inner workings of a Gilded Age robber baron.

I'm not sure how much the book "rehabilitates the tarnished image" of Davis, but it does serve to remind us of his work and accomplishments, especially in Egypt and Egyptology. I actually began to truly dislike and distrust Davis a great deal after reading the biographical portions of the story. While not as successful as other Gilded Age robber barons, Davis was no less corrupt and in some cases downright criminal than the most infamous. Even while working in Egypt later in his live, essentially "playing" with his millions, he participated in a program of corruption a fledgling antiquities service, trading favors and often ensuring that many of the artifacts made it into his own personal collection rather than museums. In fact, it was Davis and his colleagues' graft that led to a rule preventing Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon doing the same when they discovered Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922.

A book that is perfect for fans of Egypt and those of Gilded Age America alike, The Millionaire and the Mummies will have new and exciting information for everyone. Personally I am not as big a fan of the Gilded Age as I am of the Golden Age (of the Pharaohs) and therefore was often lost when it came to the dealings of Davis in business in transportation and land speculation, as well as his various congressional hearings. I did come to appreciate his "rags to riches" story, however, and realize that he was a man working in his time. Personal taste would have liked more about his excavations and their impacts and methods, but it does not detract from the hard work and research put into this great biography of a forgotten man. ( )
  chensel477 | Jun 12, 2013 |
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"Egypt, The Valley of the Kings, 1905: An American robber baron peers through the hole he has cut in an ancient tomb wall and discovers the richest trove of golden treasure ever seen in Egypt."--Dust flap.

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