Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Jessica Cheney
Composition 3
The Mummy Congress                            
Heather Pringle        
Hyperion, 2001
355 pages

“Mummies have always spoken to us on some deep primal level, and we are simply unable to leave them alone. We love them and we fear them, we aspire to be them and we dread that fate. But one thing is certain: we are powerless to resist their potent appeal. As long as humanity yearns for eternity, we will surely try to destroy our only material chance at it.”  (p. 165)

In the last half of the historical nonfiction book The Mummy Congress, the author Heather Pringle continues to tell several stories she learned about mummies from scientists who had attended the Mummy Congress is Arica, Chile. Pringle discusses the use of mummies to establish whites as the superior race over blacks during the civil war and some of the commercial uses of mummies during this time period. She brings up how the media is beginning to change how archaeologists present mummies and how the mummies are affected. A large part of this half talks about bodies that are strikingly well preserved such as those of certain saints or the methods of keeping Lenin’s body lifelike in Red Square. There are even modern ways that people try to preserve themselves, from simple dieting and exercising to the more drastic cryonics. I think this book is very interesting and I learned a lot I did not know before. I am also able to relate what I already know about mummies such as the famous expedition by Howard Carter to uncover Tutankhamun.
Pringle continues to write beautifully as she describes the stories of these mummies in great detail. She is able to describe how lifelike the bodies of the preserved saints and the methods of the Mausoleumists. This helps me to create a clear picture in my head of what she is discussing. She is able to describe her colleagues as full of life even though they are surrounded by the dead. This book does a very good job of emphasizing how the public’s reaction and views on mummies are able to change the way that mummy experts work.
There are several questions in this book such as, “Would we want ourselves mummified after we die?” or, “What was the original purpose of mummification? “, or, “What is in the future of mummification?” Even though we think that mummification is an ancient practice, there are still those who value preserving their bodies. The bodies of saints there were well preserved became known as Incorruptibles and were thought of as holier because they thought good had better preserved them. The Mausoleumists were created in order to find ways of preserving the bodies of Russia’s famous leaders. Pringle notes that people today who go on extreme weight loss diets often remind her of, “the bodies of desiccated mummies.” (pg. 328) There is even a company called Summum Mummification that will mummify people and even their pets. The field of cryonics is also a developing field that is brought to light in this book. People’s bodies and brains are preserved in the hopes that future technology will allow them to return their bodies back to life. The human race is obviously obsessed with trying to extend our lives and look the best even after we die. The mere sight of mummies can make people feel a longing and desire to be as eternal as they are. This book shows that culture’s obsession with mummies is not new and will not soon cease to exist.
My overall opinion of this book is that it is very well written so that it is very interesting and engaging, even for people who are not as interested in mummies. I had very few problems with this book. Some of the chapters provided great information, but some of them were a lot like each other and others did not have a focus that was clear to me as a reader. There was a chapter entitled “Children” that discussed Chinchorro mummies. As I understood it, the focus of the chapter was the purpose was why the first mummies were made, but this was only discussed on one or two pages of the chapter. The chapter “Celebrities” had a similar problem. I thought this was a very good book and I would recommend this book to any person who wants to learn more about mummies. It is able to provide a lot of information in a way that is not boring at all. Many people consider the topic of mummies boring or disgusting, but this book makes them very interesting. This book helped me learn a lot it helped kindle my long forgotten interest in archaeology and Egyptology.

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