EU shipping is temporarily suspended

The Oldest Book in the World

Philosophy in the Age of the Pyramids

Bill Manley


A brand-new translation of a philosophical classic of the ancient world, The Teaching of Ptahhatp, written in Egypt 4,000 years ago

See Inside

Also available as an eBook from Online store, Online store


The Teaching of Ptahhatp, composed two millennia before the birth of Plato, is the oldest surviving statement of philosophy in the ancient world and the earliest witness to the power of the written word. It ought to begin the list of the world’s philosophy classics, yet it has been largely forgotten since it was rediscovered in the nineteenth century. Egyptologist Bill Manley’s new translation corrects this oversight, rendering into approachable modern English for the first time Ptahhatp’s profound yet practical account of ‘the meaning of life’, written many centuries before the supposed dawn of western philosophy.

Manley introduces Ptahhatp, who served as Vizier to the Old Kingdom pharaoh Izezi (c. 2410–2375 BC), and the world of dynamic ideas and new technologies – writing among them – within which he worked, illuminating the nuances of his language and philosophy. In addition, Manley’s new translation of Why Things Happen, the oldest surviving account of creation from anywhere in the world, reveals how Ptahhatp’s account of the human condition is founded in distinctive ancient Egyptian beliefs about the nature of truth and reality. Taken together, Manley’s new translations and expert commentary provide a new perspective on the Pyramid Age and overturn traditional prejudices about the origins of writing and philosophy. The ‘oldest book in the world’ is a testament to a common thread that connects humanity across time; Ptahhatp grapples with the pitfalls of greed, ambition, celebrity, success, confrontation, friendship, sex and even the office environment, and his teachings remain remarkably relevant in the modern day.

Read More


'A superb book, in its own way as exciting as any excavation of a tomb. More exciting, perhaps, because it breathes life rather than death'
Stephen Fry

'Bill Manley brings to vivid life the oldest Egyptian books of wisdom, committed to writing some four thousand years before our own time ... Both scholarly and witty, The Oldest Book in the World addresses major issues that philosophers are still tackling, and major concerns for us all today'
John Tait, Emeritus Professor of Egyptology at University College London

'Bill Manley brings his skills to bear on Ptahhatp’s remarkable work for a modern readership, revealing this sensitive and compassionate exploration of truth, values, and the meaning of existence to be as valid and relevant today as it was 4,500 years ago'
Guy de la Bédoyère, author of 'Pharaohs of the Sun'

'In these matters there is, it seems, even after four millennia, a lot to learn, and perhaps to unlearn … Warmly recommended to adventurous readers who delight in new insights'
The Irish Catholic

'Manley’s clear translation and historical and philosophical context successfully illustrate that Egyptian philosophy is “not the banal, proscriptive mouthpiece of a despotic regime, but rather the reasoned voice of experience ... engaged in an open discussion about the meaning of life.” An important addition to the bookshelves of armchair Egyptologists'
Publisher's Weekly

'A captivating exploration of Ancient Egyptian ideas, language, and history. In a clear and engaging writing style, Manley has taken a text that has long been overlooked and brought it to fresh attention'
All About History

'In Mr. Manley’s adroit and pioneering translation, the 'Teaching' is philosophy ages before the Greeks had it'
The Wall Street Journal

'A fresh interpretation … far more than a simple translation of an important ancient text … Ideally suited to anyone who wishes to learn more about the ancient world by listening to the words of the ancients, instead of simply staring at their monuments'
Ancient Egypt

Read More

Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 240 pp

Illustrations: 74

Publication date: 1 June 2023

ISBN: 9780500252321

Contents List



1. ‘Le plus ancien livre du Monde’

2. The Overseer of the City and Vizir, Ptahhatp

3. The Oldest Book in the World
I. The Teaching of Ptahhatp
II. The Teaching of Kagemni
III. The Teaching of Hordedef

4. The Teacher, Ptahhatp

5. Why Things Happen

About the Author

Bill Manley is an Egyptologist, university lecturer, museum curator and bestselling author. He teaches Egyptology and Coptic at the University of Glasgow, and is Honorary President of Egyptology Scotland. He was formerly Senior Curator for Ancient Egypt at National Museums Scotland, and continues to work with archaeological projects in Egypt. He has published books, catalogues and articles covering such diverse subjects as ancient texts, the history of Egyptology, the archaeology of Palestine and ancient Egyptian art.
Thames & Hudson has published several of his books, including Egyptian Hieroglyphs for Complete Beginners and Egyptian Art.

Related Topics