A Physician on the Nile

A Physician on the Nile

A Description of Egypt and Journal of the Famine Years

288 Pages

November 2022

ISBN: 9781479820078




ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī (557–629/1162–1231) was a Baghdad-born physician and scientist who wrote books on a wide range of topics, including medicine, philology, mathematics, and philosophy.

Tim Mackintosh-Smith is a noted British travel author, best known for his trilogy on the renowned Moroccan world-traveler Ibn Baṭṭūṭah, which earned him a spot among Newsweek’s top twelve travel writers of the past hundred years. Since 1982, he has lived in Sanaa, Yemen.

Mansoura Ez-Eldin is an Egyptian novelist and short story writer whose works have been translated into more than ten languages. She is the deputy editor of the Egyptian weekly cultural magazine Akhbār al-Adab.

Flora, fauna, and famine in thirteenth-century Egypt

A Physician on the Nile begins as a description of everyday life in Egypt at the turn of the seventh/thirteenth century, before becoming a harrowing account of famine and pestilence. Written by the polymath and physician ʿAbd al-Laṭīf al-Baghdādī, and intended for the Abbasid caliph al-Nāṣir, the first part of the book offers detailed descriptions of Egypt’s geography, plants, animals, and local cuisine, including a recipe for a giant picnic pie made with three entire roast lambs and dozens of chickens. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf’s text is also a pioneering work of ancient Egyptology, with detailed observations of Pharaonic monuments, sculptures, and mummies. An early and ardent champion of archaeological conservation, ʿAbd al-Laṭīf condemns the vandalism wrought by tomb-robbers and notes with distaste that Egyptian grocers price their goods with labels written on recycled mummy-wrappings.

The book’s second half relates his horrific eyewitness account of the great famine that afflicted Egypt in the years 597–598/1200–1202. ʿAbd al-Laṭīf was a keen observer of humanity, and he offers vivid first-hand depictions of starvation, cannibalism, and a society in moral free-fall.

A Physician on the Nile contains great diversity in a small compass, distinguished by the acute, humane, and ever-curious mind of its author. It is rare to be able to hear the voice of such a man responding so directly to novelty, beauty, and tragedy.

An English-only edition.


  • "In A Physician on the Nile, Mackintosh-Smith, an award-winning writer and translator, provides no less than an exemplary access to the enthralling as well as abhorring diversity of ʿAbd al-Laṭīf’s words."

    Journal of Near Eastern Studies