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Antony and Cleopatra [Hardcover]

Adrian Goldsworthy
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Sept. 28 2010

A masterfully told—and deeply human—story of love, politics, and ambition, Adrian Goldsworthy’s Antony and Cleopatra delivers a compelling reassessment of a major episode in ancient history.

In this remarkable dual biography of the two great lovers of the ancient world, Goldsworthy goes beyond myth and romance to create a nuanced and historically acute portrayal of his subjects, set against the political backdrop of their time. A history of lives lived intensely at a time when the world was changing profoundly, the book takes readers on a journey that crosses cultures and boundaries from ancient Greece and ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire.

Drawing on his prodigious knowledge of the ancient world and his keen sense of the period’s military and political history, Goldsworthy creates a singular portrait of the iconic lovers. “Antony and Cleopatra were first and foremost political animals,” explains Goldsworthy, who places politics and ideology at the heart of their storied romance. Undertaking a close analysis of ancient sources and archaeological evidence, Goldsworthy bridges the gaps of current scholarship and dispels misconceptions that have entered the popular consciousness. He explains why Cleopatra was consistently portrayed by Hollywood as an Egyptian, even though she was really Greek, and argues that Antony had far less military experience than anyone would suspect from reading Shakespeare and other literature. Goldsworthy makes an important case for understanding Antony as a powerful Roman senator and political force in his own right.

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"Goldsworthy's strengths as a military historian are on full display."—Times Literary Supplement
(Times Literary Supplement)

"[The] distinguished biographer of Julius Caesar . . . reproduces the claustrophobia of a brutal culture dependent on slavery and enslaved to ambition."—Judith Thurman, The New Yorker
(The New Yorker)

“The book has considerable advantage over most of the other ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ histories on the shelves, providing a very detailed political and military account of the development of the two most important centers of the ancient world.”—The National Interest
(The National Interest)

"Adrian Goldsworthy is one of our most promising young military historians today."—Sir John Keegan, author of The Iraq War

(Sir John Keeagn)

“Goldsworthy reveals that Antony and Cleopatra were far more complex, interesting, and ultimately human figures, than ancient propagandists or modern theorists have made them out to be. My guess is that they would approve, and so will readers.”—Guy MacLean Rogers, Wellesley College
(Guy MacLean Rogers)

"Goldsworthy is a rising star on the historical scene and has a number of well-regarded books to his credit. This will likely add to his growing reputation . . . [as] a first-class historian."—Washington Times
(Washington Times)

"[Goldsworthy] tells the story of [Cleopatra's] dynasty with huge skill. . . . Carefully interweaved into this extraordinary tale is another: the rise of Rome from tatty city state to Mediterranean domination."—Peter Heather, BBC History Magazine
(Peter Heather BBC History Magazine)

"[Goldsworthy] is excellent in puncturing the myth of Antony as a great Roman military tactician. . . . He is also refreshingly frank about the unimportance of Cleopatra herself. This was a world in which the power of Rome ruled."—Mary Beard, Financial Times
(Mary Beard Financial Times)

"[Goldsworthy] does a splendid job of putting their lives in context and forcefully reminding us of the most salient aspects of their story while dispersing the romantic fog that has clung to them."—Christopher Silvester, The Express (London)
(Christopher Silvester The Express (London))

"Outstanding: filled with fascinating details of personality, power, sex and death. This is the best book I've read on Antony and Cleopatra—gripping and flamboyant yet scholarly and magesterial."--Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Young Stalin and Jerusalem: The Biography 
(Simon Sebag Montefiore)

"Essential reading. . . . Goldsworthy's book is written in engaging prose that flows with charm and flair. . . . Goldsworthy has almost created a new genre of classics/ancient history titles: works that comfortably inhabit a middle ground between the unscholarly and the hyper-scholarly."—Bryn Mawr Classical Review
(Bryn Mawr Classical Review)

"Goldsworthy admirably succeeds in highlighting the 'lost years' of Antony's life, and in offering an appraisal of the extant sources on Cleopatra that provides much of interest both to students and scholars. . . . Goldsworthy's history should be considered essential reading for anyone interested in the rise of Octavian and the birth of the principate. . . . Goldsworhty's book has most use for the undergraduate and graduate students of Roman history."—Lee Fratantuono, Bryn Mawr Classical Review
(Lee Fratantuono Bryn Mawr Classical Review)

"Highly recommended."—H. Chang, Choice
(H. Chang Choice)

About the Author

Adrian Goldsworthy is a leading historian of the ancient world. The author of many books, including How Rome Fell, Caesar, The Roman Army at War, and In the Name of Rome, he lectures widely and consults on historical documentaries produced by the History Channel, National Geographic, and the BBC. Goldsworthy is also the recipient of numerous prizes. He lives in Wales.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Excellent Work Nov. 12 2011
I've reviewed this elsewhere. Another excellent balance of scholarship and readability. A well written and succinct pre-history of the story describing the Ptolemaic dynasty up to Cleopatra VII. As well as a pre-history of the political situation and mindset in Mark Antony's Rome. This leads to a far better understanding of the events leading up to and culminating in the Battle of Actium and suicide thereafter.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read Oct. 6 2010
By Talon - Published on Amazon.com
I've only so far read The Punic Wars by this author, but it was such a spectacular read that I decided to grab more books by Goldsworthy. One of those books was this one, and I'm not disappointing. The book shows the relationship between Antony and Cleopatra that's not Shakespeareized, or Hollywoodized. I heartily recommend this book for anyone interested in the era!

And, ignore the one-star reviews. They review the price, not the content, which is ridiculous.
36 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Contents, not cover or even cost, must be the basis of review. Oct. 5 2010
By John M. Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
I found Adrian Goldsworthy's book of ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA an excellent account of the history of these two historical characters in which played such a significant role in a most turbulent time in Roman History. The author knows his subject and presents it in an outstanding manner for comprehension of the subject. It is reseached well and I would recommend the book highly. I find the two other reviewers opinions and sentiment entirely irrelevant. Literature, history, philosophy, etc must always be judged by its contents and never be reviewed by its cover or even its cost---but only by the authors knowledge of the material and the way the information is presented to readers. I would suggest that anyone interested in this period of ancient history will not be dissappointed in the reading of Goldsworthy's book of ANTONY and CLEOPATRA. The book is excellent and I recommend it quite highly. JMJ
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars an excellent read Dec 12 2010
By Irene Hahn - Published on Amazon.com
The story of Antony and Cleopatra as portrayed here is no less fascinating than if they were the romantic characters their afterlife makes us believe. Mr. Goldsworthy's exhaustive examination of their lives and his easy writing style make them real life personae and fascinating characters. There is enough drama without the propaganda and the later inventions, from companionship, high living and pageantry to the final tragedy.

I like the new (revived?) practice of writing about Ancient history for the general reader. Adrian Goldsworthy is a master of this genre, and "Antony and Cleopatra" does not disappoint.

The author advises his readers that this is not a history of Ancient Rome and Egypt but a biography, and that he will only relate those events that are directly related to the lives of the protagonists. However, he creates enough of an historical and social background to give the general reader a good understanding of where we are - and maybe an increased interest in the Ancient world per se. I have to admit that I tend to scan these kinds of overview such as in Chapters I and II, but in "Antony and Cleopatra" I thoroughly enjoyed reading them.

My complete review:
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another worthy Goldsworthy Roman book Dec 10 2010
By David Roy - Published on Amazon.com
I've been a fan of Adrian Goldsworthy's since his How Rome Fell so impressed me with its amazing scholarship. Now, Goldsworthy tackles another ancient Roman subject that has teased the imagination of the public for generations: Antony and Cleopatra. For most of us, Cleopatra looks like Elizabeth Taylor; that movie is the extent of most common knowledge of the two ancient lovers. I have no idea how historically accurate the movie was (at least compared to the scholarship at the time of its production), but I'd be willing to guess that there is a lot in Goldsworthy's book that people not particularly interested in history don't know.

As with How Rome Fell (the author is best known for Caesar: Life of a Colossus), the depth of Goldsworthy's research is remarkable. He covers not just the lives of these two players but also the Roman world in which they grew up, along with a brief history of their families - the Ptolemaic royal family descended from Alexander the Great and that resulted in Cleopatra's family line, and of Antony's well-known aristocratic family.

Little is known about either childhood, but he gives us what he can, clearly noting where something is supported by historical document or whether it's suggested or inferred from what is known of the time period. Where supposition and speculation are involved, Goldsworthy never presents it as fact but as differing theories. It's interesting to explore these historical gray areas, but I like a historian who will present his view while not averring that his view is obvious fact.

For example, some people consider Cleopatra as almost a tramp, a purely sexual figure (perhaps because of the image the movie presents), but Goldsworthy makes a strong case for the theory that Caesar and Antony were her only two lovers, and that their relationships involved love as well as political gamesmanship. Caesar and Antony were the most powerful men of their age (Antony rose in prominence after Caesar's assassination), and Cleopatra realized that tiny Egypt could be easily absorbed by the burgeoning Roman Empire if she didn't enlist Roman aid. Yet Goldsworthy feels that their history is more than just that.

Antony and Cleopatra thoroughly details the history of these two lovers as well as the political machinations of at the time. Civil wars were breaking out in Rome throughout Antony's lifetime as ambitious men vied for power, and Antony became part of a trio of leaders with Octavian and Lepidus (a truly minor figure compared to the other two men) that was designed to end the conflicts. Instead, it precipitated Antony's downfall in the eventual face-off against each other for ultimate power. Antony and Cleopatra's decline is almost poignant in Goldsworthy's telling, even as he dispels some myths about her death - as well as pointing out which other legends may or may not be true. For example, snakes or their poison may have been involved, but it's highly unlikely that an asp bit her on the breast.

One thing I missed (and maybe it wasn't included due to the fact that little information is available) is how Cleopatra could spend so much time away from Egypt and still run things. She spent months with Antony in Greece and months with Caesar in Rome, yet there's no indication that the Egyptians even missed her. Perhaps Goldsworthy avoids the subject because there is no way to know what happened, or perhaps it's the same as when any Roman Emperor spent his entire reign on the field of battle. Either way, I would have liked to have known more.

Antony and Cleopatra is well-documented, with numerous notes in the back of the book for each chapter (probably my favorite notation system, considering the fact that nobody seems to use footnotes anymore). Goldsworthy utilizes many sources, both original and secondary, making this an admirably detailed account. Goldsworthy covers all aspects of the lives of these two prominent people, from the personal and political machinations between them to the attempted military exploits of Antony as he tried (and failed) to demonstrate to the Roman people that he was a competent general.

Antony and Cleopatra is an excellent historical overview of their lives that may help put into perspective some of the pop culture images we hold of these two tragic figures. It's also a fascinating read.

David Roy

Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Nov. 16 2010
By Trundle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A most excellent book. Goldsworthy's is a judicious examination of the historical record. His intention is to present what is actually known about Antony and Cleopatra rather than to simply bolster the mythic figures that have come to be associated with the names. Of particular interest are Goldsworthy's thoughtful explorations of Antony's military ventures and Cleopatra's political maneuvering. A plus: that he presents, at various points, alternate possible explanations of episodes based on available (limited) historical evidence, and then gives solid reasons for the explanation that he favors. A highlight of the volume: his outstanding analyses of the battles of Philippi and Actium.
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