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Dave Wood's Book Report, July 29, 2009

It's fun to read real history written by someone with a flair for the narrative approach.

Such a real history is "In the Valley of the Kings," by Daniel Meyerson (Ballantine Books, $26).

Meyerson writes of Howard Carter, the British archaeologist who opened King Tut's tomb in Egypt back in 1922.

What a discovery! Meyerson's account said that thanks to the media, the world went crazy over King Tut memorabilia and one overblown news item after another.

Normally this would be a good thing for the man who worked for years to discover it.

Not so. First off, the publicity encouraged the Egyptian government to exhibit a nationalistic fervor not seen I that country for centuries. That led to the government's tearing up Carter's sponsor's contract to discover and exploit the tomb and preserve the artifacts therein.

After that, the government locked up the tomb and refused Carter permission to further discover and prepare the artifacts until he made a public apology.

This embittered the eccentric archaeologist and his last years were anything but pleasant. A friend recorded visiting Carter during the last decade of clearing the tomb.

"We found him repairing some of the coffin cases; he showed us the multitude of things still awaiting attention and I pitied him cooped up for years in the electrified darkness of the tomb."

"He would never excavate again," writes Meyerson.

A solitary figure, idle angry, withdrawn, he would live out his last days on the terrace of Luxor's Winter Palace. ... He would tell anyone who would listen that he knew where the much-sought-for tomb of Alexander the Great could be found.

But, he would add with spite, he would take that secret with him to the grave: The world did not deserve to know it."

Was he mad? Or was he simply aware of the New Kingdom tomb curse:

'Let the one who enters here beware,

His heart shall have no pleasure in life.'

Lerner Publications of Minneapolis recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. Two their recent releases are worth more than a mention. Take "Name That Style," by Bob Raczka (First Avenue Editions, $9.95).

This children's book is rated at grade levels from third to twelfth, ages 8 to 18. I'm 73 and I'm not giving this one to a grand niece. I'm keeping it.

Raczka has created a very informational handbook about various artistic styles, when they were popular, who inspired them, what their characteristics are.

Even at 73, I can learn from it (and probably use it to impress my barbaric friends).

He begins with 15th century naturalism and its realistic portrayals of life by painters like Jan van Eyck, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Leonardo da Vinci.

He goes on to the Mannerism movement begun in the 16th century and cites its characteristics as using long, stretched-out figures (El Greco), odd or contorted poses, imaginary settings, unbalanced compositions, unnatural colors or lighting.

And then he's on to brief chapters on NeoClassicism, Romanticism, Realism, Impressionism, Pointilism, Fauvism (Matisse, et al.), Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Op Art and Photorealism, ending near the present.

Every chapter is illustrated in full color on quality enameled paper. It's 31 pages of simply put and solid information and a steal at $9.95.

Lerner has turned out another book in its Mallory series for kids, its twelfth. This one is "Happy New Year, Mallory!" (CarolRhoda Editions, $15.95 cloth), in which Mallory and her pal plan a big New Year's party for friends and then poor Mallory falls sick.

Dave Wood is a past vice president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.