Temples, Tombs and Hieroglyphs, by Barbara Mertz
(That's “hieroglyphs,” notice. “Hieroglyphic” is an adjective, never a noun.)
I wanted some sort of book to read on Ancient Egypt, as my knowledge of it was limited to a random jumble of Pharaohs and pyramids, with Israelites wandering in and out. This was a random pick from the library listing, and a very lucky one indeed. I knew from the first line that it was exactly what I was looking for. Ms. Mertz, after a lifetime of fascination with Egypt, chattily passes on what she's learned in some semblance of chronological order.
It's a book full of personalities: immortal kings, clever commoners, and the sweaty archeologists trying to decipher it all. It's short and straightforward enough to make the progression of history easy to remember, but gives enough detail to make it interesting. Egyptian history stretches out into its long ages of existence and triumphs that were already in twilight just when the rest of history starts to get going.
There's some attention given to scholarly methods and debates, but not an excessive amount, and with some skepticism towards getting too carried away on theories: “Often the evidence for a 'race of invaders' conssists of cultural changes–which, in prehistoric societies, means primarily new kinds of pots. I have a prejudice against this sort of argument. I get idiotic mental images of invading armies brandishing pots, which they thrust threateningly into the trembling hands of the conquered indigenes.”
The only thing I would do differently, if I were doing it over, would be to read this book concurrently with Tales of Ancient Egypt, by Roger Lancelyn Green. Many of the stories Green develops in full are summarized by Mertz and used to comment on the culture of the time. They would be perfect together.