How the Great Pyramid Was Built


The book is the first-person account of my investigation into constructing the Great Pyramid, built for the Pharaoh Khufu at Giza during his reign from 2551 to 2528 B.C. It is a detailed account written for the general public—enhanced by a comprehensive photographic treatment that will enable readers to fully appreciate the depth and significance of this work and the brilliance of the ancient Egyptians’ accomplishments. The book opens with a foreword by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Undersecretary of State for the Giza Monuments and one of the world’s preeminent archaeologists, who explains that my findings concerning the size of the workforce (based on a construction engineering analysis) closely agree with the latest archeological findings. “Quest for Answers,” the introduction to the book, follows, providing an overview of why I undertook this research and how I went about it. The chapters that follow explain the work in detail and unfold in a logical progression. I begin by placing the project within its historical context so that readers gain an understanding of the ancient Egyptians. I discuss the sophisticated culture they had established, emphasizing their religious beliefs and their concept of the afterlife from which their need to build the pyramids arose.


I saw the construction of Khufu’s pyramid as a large public works project, involving resources and people from Upper and Lower Egypt. I then determined that the construction of the pyramid could be examined with the very same tools we use today in managing any large public works project—the tools I use on a daily basis in managing very large programs, such as building huge new airports or major university campuses. Briefly stated, these tools take complex construction projects and break them down into minute individual operations or steps using a process called a work breakdown structure. Once this has been done, the resources needed to perform the project—materials and labor—can be determined accurately, and the schedule to complete the work can be established. I prepared such a framework for the construction of Khufu’s pyramid by identifying and analyzing each of the steps it took to build it—from selecting and preparing the site to placing the last of the white casing stones on the pyramid face.


The more I thought about this approach, the more convinced I became that it would provide new insights into how the Great Pyramid was constructed. My experience tells me that Khufu’s pyramid could not have been built without some form of organized program management. The logistical challenges of executing this huge project in an inhospitable desert were simply too great for it to have been undertaken spontaneously. There had to have been a plan—in fact, a very complex, well-thought out plan—and there had to have been someone behind the plan, a master builder in charge of the work. This person must have been Hemiunu, the Pharaoh Khufu’s vizier, or head statesman, a man who also held the title “Overseer of all the King’s Works.”


Using Program Management tools as a foundation, I did an exhaustive investigation into all of the details of the design, engineering, and construction of the pyramid, in order to assess the methods, the number of workers, and the time it took to construct the pyramid. I made several trips to Egypt, and spent time, not only at Giza, but also at Meidum, Saqqara and Dahshur, examining foundations, ancient quarries, stone cutting, typical building materials, details of stone masonry, structural design and support, remains of ramps, and other essential aspects. Earlier pyramids built at these sites served as de-facto prototypes for the Great Pyramid, since the Egyptians incorporated trial and error learning experiences into the construction planning for Khufu’s pyramid. In museums I inspected ancient tools, sledges, rope, and boats used by the Egyptians. I built models and replicas of measuring instruments and copper chisels to test my ideas. I consulted with a number of experts and specialists and did an in-depth survey of the extensive literature on the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians.


The book has a detailed description of a system of ramps used to place the stones, describes the size of the work force (5,000 permanent skilled workers resident at the site, supplemented by 25,000 to 30,000 seasonal laborers for several years). My schedule analysis shows that the project was completed in ten years.


The book is based on engineering and construction principles, but attempts to draw from the latest archaeological work done by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Mark Lehner, and other leaders in the field.


Appearing throughout the 300-plus page text, are 85 photographs and illustrations commissioned for the book that not only illustrate the main points being made in the narrative, but also underscore what an extraordinary architectural legacy the ancient Egyptians bequeathed us. Smithsonian Institution Press, Barnes and Noble. Hard cover 288pp, $27.95, paperback $15.95, e-book $18.90.(13 reviews, 4.2/5.0 stars) Note: Send check to Dockside Sailing Press for hard cover at a discount, $20, or paperback, $14+ $3 postage.(Supplies limited.)


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  • How the Great Pyramid Was BuiltCraig B. Smith

    No monument to human achievement has intrigued mankind more than the Great Pyramid at Giza. The most celebrated and enduring vestige of the remarkable civilization that emerged during the golden age of the pharaohs, the Great Pyramid is a structure without equal. Indeed for more than 4,300 years it stood as the largest man-made structure on earth. Roughly two-thirds the size of Hoover Dam, it rises 451 feet in height, rests on a base that covers more than 13 acres, and incorporates 3.4 million cubic yards of material—an estimated 2 million blocks of limestone and granite. It is remarkable, not only for its size, architecturally, it is stunning—a testament to the ancient Egyptians' prodigious grasp of mathematics and their mastery of spatial concepts. It is oriented almost precisely true north and south; the angle of inclination of the triangular faces is uniformly 51.9 degrees. The base is level to within less than one inch; the average deviation of the faces from the cardinal directions is 3'6" of arc; and the greatest difference in the length of the faces is 1 3/4 inches. In short, the precision of its configuration is phenomenal. Craig Smith analyzes the Great Pyramid's construction by approaching the project as a program manager in 2550 B.C might have done. Program management is the science and practice of managing large private and public projects—making certain that everything comes together at the right time, that the required quantity of materials arrive when needed and that expected quality standards are met. By using the tools of the modern program manager—a work breakdown structure, critical path schedule analysis, and detailed computer modeling, this book provides a fascinating forensic analysis of how one of the world's greatest construction projects was accomplished over 4500 years ago. How the Great Pyramid Was Built was published by the Smithsonian Institution Press. Paperback version published by HarperCollins. Lavishly illustrated with 93 drawings and photographs, including 18 color plates.