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Cleopatra: A Life
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2011
I always wanted to believe that there was something more to Cleopatra than a mysterious personality that made men want to buy a night with her at the price of their lives. Stacy Schiff's book helps to see this woman in a completely different light. While still for the most part an interpretation, her book draws a portrait of Cleopatra that you've never seen before. Cleopatra's origin, her education, financial situation as well as the people she met shed light on why it was and still is so difficult to think of her as an important political figure rather than a mysterious woman...
Even if one comes to grasp the complexity of her character, the grandeur of her inventiveness and ambition, there still remains an unexplained fact: why did her projects end up so sad and tragic? Why did the whole world that she cherished so carefully turned its back on her at the end of her life? And how could she got outplayed by such a mediocre, compared to her, personality as Octavian? And what exactly, after his long reign of Rome, made Octavian come to consider Cleopatra's position, she so proudly occupied, as "dreadful" (p. 297)? It is hard or nearly impossible to understand what Cleopatra might have felt when she came to realize "she was to become the woman 'who destroyed the Egyptian monarchy'" (p. 302)...
While it's sad to be unable to understand what really happened and what drove her to commit suicide, I also want to believe that she was not only intelligent and calculating strategist. I don't think the tears she might have shed over the bodies of her children' s fathers were in anyway dramatic, in line with the tradition of Greek tragedies. I want to believe she was both the powerful queen and a vulnerable woman...
But then, if Aesop's lions were given an opportunity to believe in something (p. 298), we'd have a completely different review in here :))
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon November 9, 2011
This book gets off to a very slow start with the author explaining her research methods in excruciating detail, but once it gets going into the actual life of Cleopatra it becomes a very interesting book.

The author goes into great detail explaining and interpreting events from Cleopatra's viewpoint, rather than the viewpoint of the ancient Roman historians. She also makes some interesting interpretations of the primary classical sources, Plutarch, Cassius Dio and others. I don't agree with all her interpretations but most are quite thought provoking nonetheless.

The book also examines the many legends surrounding Cleopatra. As one example, Schiff makes a very convincing case for the story of Cleopatra killing herself by letting an asp bite her to be a Roman fabrication. The truth, says Schiff, is that Cleopatra had a very extensive knowledge of poisons and toxins - the Ptolemys were, after all, very adept at poisoning rivals to the throne, particularly other family members - so she would likely have chosen something far less painful and faster acting than an asp bite.

The reader in the audio book version has a voice that takes a bit of getting used to, but once you get it the vocal works well.

I have a 40 minute commute to and from work and I generally pass the time listening to audio books. I found this one very interesting.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 24, 2010
Schiff's Cleopatra is another triumph from the Pulitzer prize-winning author. Probably her most accessible book yet, it is a definitive portrait of the ubiquitous Egyptian Queen. Answering all your questions about what Cleopatra was really like, from her looks to her garments to her fabled city of Alexandria, Schiff beguiles us with the facts behind the Sphinx. From her relationships with Caesar and Marc Anthony to her famous ancestors, the Ptolemys, all is revealed. A must for the biography lover, amateur Egyptologist or history buff.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon December 5, 2011
Disentangling fact from fiction is rarely an easy task, let alone if you are dealing with history. Yet, therein resides Stacy Schiff's greatest achievement in tackling the life of one of the most fictionalized characters of all times. From Plutarch to Shakespeare and Elizabeth Taylor contributions to the myth of Cleopatra have been overly abundant. Schiff's navigates through all the sources rescuing the woman that really was, one that fully justifies our fascination with her on her own merits. On top of the gift that this revelation is in itself, Schiff writes wonderfully. Enjoy.
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on June 9, 2015
Stacy Schiff mines ancient sources to find the real Cleopatra. Forget what you've heard about her being a seductress ruled by her own desires. Cleopatra was an highly intelligent, resourceful woman who received the finest education available in her day.

She lost an empire, regained it, almost lost it again, and ultimately failed to stop the encroachment of Rome. Schiff sifts through what ancient historians - all of them from enemy states - had to say about her, and accounts of events to demonstrate that Cleopatra made well reasoned decisions, and ruled successfully for a long time.

I quite enjoyed the style of the book as well. It comes across as a narrative instead of a scholarly review. For those who want to know more, there is an extensive section of notes as well.
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on September 6, 2014
I bought this to read because my book club suggested it. I really like the history aspect of this book and can now understand better the context of the time.
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on March 31, 2015
This is a brilliant biography by a renowned historian. I could not put the biography down and stayed up all night. Schiff makes Cleopatra jump off the page.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2011
A fascinating account of a complex woman,this book goes past the popular melodramatic myths. I loved the accounts of the economics of the time, Cleopatra's education, the rights of Egyptian women, and the level of sophistication of that society. The battle scenes/descriptions were a little dry for my taste, but overall, a great read.
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1 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 27, 2011
The book is a hard read. too many charaters to keep track of. Need a high IQ to understand . Im able to just skim it to get interesting details of how they lived
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