New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice • The remarkable story of the intrepid French archaeologist who led the international effort to save ancient Egyptian temples from the floodwaters of the Aswan Dam, by the New York Times bestselling author of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War “A female version of the Indiana Jones story . . . [Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt] was a daredevil whose real-life antics put Hollywood fiction to shame.”—The Guardian
In the 1960s, the world’s attention was focused on a nail-biting race against time: the international campaign to save a dozen ancient Egyptian temples from drowning in the floodwaters of the gigantic new Aswan High Dam. But the coverage of this unprecedented rescue effort completely overlooked the daring French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples—including the Temple of Dendur, now at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—would currently be at the bottom of a vast reservoir. It was an unimaginably complex project that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled and rebuilt on higher ground.
Willful and determined, Desroches-Noblecourt refused to be cowed by anyone or anything. As a member of the French Resistance in World War II she survived imprisonment by the Nazis; in her fight to save the temples she defied two of the most daunting leaders of the postwar world, Egypt’s President Abdel Nasser and France’s President Charles de Gaulle. As she told one reporter, “You don’t get anywhere without a fight, you know.”
Desroches-Noblecourt also received help from a surprising source. Jacqueline Kennedy, America’s new First Lady, persuaded her husband to help fund the rescue effort. After a century and a half of Western plunder of Egypt’s ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt helped instead to preserve a crucial part of that cultural heritage.
About the Author
Lynne Olson is the New York Times bestselling author of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, Last Hope Island, Those Angry Days, and Citizens of London. She has been a consulting historian for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. She lives in Washington, D.C.
“Olson relates in this fast-paced, highly entertaining book. The highlight of Olson’s book is her thrilling account of the rescue of the giant statues of Rameses II and the Abu Simbel temples from inundation by the Aswan High Dam.”—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)
“Olson, whose many previous books spotlight unsung heroes and heroines of that war, is here at her best . . . Empress of the Nile tells her story well, embedding it in the history of modern Egyptian archaeology. Empress of the Nile is a welcome and needed work of both rescue and reclamation.”—The Washington Post
“Olson provides a gripping account of an extraordinary life.”—Booklist, starredreview
“Enriched by fascinating digressions into Egyptian history, museum rivalries, the plundering of archaeological sites, the 1956 Suez Crisis, and more, this is a captivating portrait of a pathbreaking woman. Readers will be enthralled.”—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A well-documented and sensitive portrait of a remarkable woman who shared her passion for Egypt and inspired so many others to find their calling, myself included, while at the same time helping to reinvigorate the Louvre.”—Henri Loyrette, Honorary President and Director of the Louvre Museum
“Lynne Olson’s many fans know her gift for storytelling and bringing to life heroes who may not be well known but demand—indeed, rivet—our attention. Readers will devour this wonderful book.”—Evan Thomas, New York Times bestselling author of First: Sandra Day O’Connor
“An exhilarating, in-depth look at a woman whose courage never faltered. Olson’s richly detailed biography takes the reader for a magnificent ride in this heart-stopping read.”—Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnolia Palace
“Once again, Lynne Olson introduces us to a modern heroine who defied the odds and achieved historic results. With her signature deep research and compassion for quirky characters, Olson spins an inspiring tale with a sometimes surprising cast. Empress of the Nile is a tonic for our times and a reminder that one unstoppable woman can bend history to her will.”—Kati Marton, New York Times bestselling author of The Chancellor
“Empress of the Nile is the best sort of micro history: both an intimate portrait of a groundbreaking woman and a whirlwind tour through the major events and personalities of the twentieth century. To anyone who ever tossed a coin into the waters around the Temple of Dendur—you must read this book.”—Lauren Willig, New York Times bestselling author of Band of Sisters
“Lynne Olson has found yet another fascinating, unsung heroine: a French archaeologist with the moxie to take on the Egyptians, the Americans and the French to save historic Egyptian temples.”—Meryl Gordon, author of three biographies including Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend