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Cleopatra: A Life (2010)

by Stacy Schiff

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,0091742,601 (3.66)1 / 356
The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.
  1. 30
    The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Although long, this is an excellent book. Written in first person and thoroughly researched, it really opens your eyes to what an outstanding person Cleopatra was.
  2. 20
    The Rise and Fall of Alexandria: Birthplace of the Modern World by Justin Pollard (davesmind)
  3. 10
    Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy (bookfitz)
  4. 10
    Personal History by Katharine Graham (Menagerie)
    Menagerie: Two strong women that lived centuries apart but faced many of the same obstacles.
  5. 10
    The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy by Adrienne Mayor (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Both offer an outsider's (and antagonist's) perspective on Roman history.

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 Ancient History: Cleopatra; A Life by Stacy Schiff36 unread / 36southernbooklady, August 2013

» See also 356 mentions

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Showing 1-5 of 172 (next | show all)
I am learning from this book but cannot recommend it. It begins with a presumption that the reader understands Roman politics of the time. I was able to follow this portion only because I am watching HBO's Rome. Then midway through the book it starts providing detail on Roman politicians, but not in chronological order. For example, at one point, I went to the index to remind myself who I was reading about (Donabello), and found out that his first mention was his suicide, several pages earlier.
One thing I learned was how the Romans used Cleopatra's gender as propaganda against Mark Antony; and how that sexism has been continued by historians, etc., when she should have been judged like any other ruler of that time. For example, if Octavian has Octavia (his sister) have children with Mark Antony that's what is done to attempt to unite rival families. So if Cleopatra has herself have children with Mark Antony, that should also be seen as what is done to attempt to unite rival families, not as a woman's misuse of her sexuality.
I also learned how very, very violent all the ruling actors were.
Although I am pretty confused about how they all end up with with Roman legions to control.
One last observation: The author and the men she quotes all seem to assume that Caesar and Mark Antony are drawn to Cleopatra for romantic purposes; but it seems just as likely to me that what they were really seduced by was the over-the-top luxury they could enjoy in Egypt vs. more conservative Rome. ( )
  read.to.live | Dec 18, 2022 |
This book attempts to set the record straight regarding the life of Cleopatra, portraying her as a powerful, capable, smart, creative leader as opposed to the commonly-held perception of her as a manipulative vixen. The author has done a great deal of research about the era and relates it in an inordinate amount of detail, much of it only peripherally related to Cleopatra. Unfortunately, the is little to no source material from which to draw that ties directly to Cleopatra. The sources are written by the likes of Cicero, Plutarch and Dio, whose motives are questionable. The author infers what Cleopatra might have done, accepting some of the content from the questionable sources while discounting other portions. Inferences were made without much in the way of explanation, causing me to doubt whether her conclusions were valid.

This book is apparently one that polarizes readers. Many people loved it. I did not. I found it a chore to read and almost didn’t finish it. I felt no connection to the narrative. I normally enjoy non-fiction, but this book took what, to me, is an interesting topic and turned it into something akin to a textbook or thesis. I cannot recommend it but if you think it could be to your taste, you may want to borrow rather than buy it. ( )
  Castlelass | Oct 30, 2022 |
Perhaps of all the historic characters we think we know, but don’t, Cleopatra ranks at the top of the list. Sometimes a legend is so well-known that we lose track of the fact that a real human being was living this story, fighting these battles, and harboring these emotions. What an extraordinary person she must have been to have lived through so much in her short thirty-nine years and to have influenced history in the way that she did.

First fact that I did not know. She was Cleopatra VII. There were five before her, but someone screwed up the count and she was officially #7. I think we would all agree that regardless of that fact, there was only ONE Cleopatra. Nothing like her has existed since the year 30 BC.

She was the exceptional woman who knew how to play with the men and come out on top. She was absolutely as smart as she was beautiful, and probably more so, since her beauty is not mentioned as often as her charm. She came to power in what might be termed a cruel and ruthless manner, being directly involved in the death of her siblings, but reality is that it was more a matter of survival than choice.

That her fate became linked with Marc Antony’s might have as much to do with playing the political game as it ever did with love or passion. She bore him three children, however, and it is hard to imagine that she did not feel very strong bonds with him beyond those of their interlaced political ambitions.

There exists but one word actually written by Cleopatra herself. Everything we know of her comes to us from other sources. Cicero, who despised her, is a major source, as is Plutarch, who lived between 45 and 120 AD. It takes a lot of research in multiple sources to assemble a true picture of her life, and Stacy Schiff has done the work. She has managed at the same time to make the account interesting and never boring or stale.

In the final insult to my knowledge of Cleopatra, I learned that it was most likely NOT an asp that killed her. The story does, however, date back to almost the moment of her death and was spread by Octavian for his own reasons. It fit so perfectly with the legend that already begun to spin around her and the images that were associated with the Ptolemies, that it stuck like glue.

“Before her came Eve, Medusa, Electra, and the Erinyes; when a woman teams up with a snake, a moral storm threatens somewhere.” Says Schiff. It explains well why historians preferred to pass along the fiction instead of the truth.

“Our fascination with Cleopatra has only increased as a result; she is all the more mythic for her disappearance. The holes in the story keep us under her spell.” She bewitches us from beyond the grave perhaps because we know so little about her personally and that gives us a blank slate on which we can write our own version of Cleopatra.

Having now finished this biography, I am anxious to find time to revisit my favorite Cleopatra story, the one penned by William Shakespeare. I will read it with an eye to how it differs from the truths we know about this enigmatic woman.
( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
“As always, an educated woman was a dangerous woman.”
― Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

I found this book to be good but not exceptional. Part of that is that I have read so many books on Cleopatra. My favorite is "I Cleopatra" which was published in the seventies and I really look to that book as being the Gold Standard of all things Cleopatra.

Also this book is difficult to get into..at least at first. I did warm up to it but some aspects were more interesting then others. I appreciate all the research that must have gone into this. It was an educational read.

But certain parts dragged and I did struggle with some of it. I'd still recommend it to Historical Fiction buffs and especially to anyone interested in the life of Cleopatra but "I Cleopatra" will always be my favorite Cleopatra book. ( )
  Thebeautifulsea | Aug 4, 2022 |
Read: alpha C, TIOLI, Woman in major city (Alexandria). ROOT, Shakespeare
Read this for many reason but it has been on my shelf for a very long time. Nonfiction about Cleopatra. I learned “what I did not know”. Cleopatra is more myth than reality. The history keepers of ancient times were unreliable (like today). Cleopatra did not die the way we all think, she was not Egyptian, and we don’t know what she looked like. ( )
  Kristelh | Jun 29, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 172 (next | show all)
" Ideally, as Stacy Schiff observes in her magnificent re-creation of both an extraordinary woman, and her times, our sense of Cleopatra would be heightened by her dramatic appearance as the doomed heroine of a sumptuous opera (Puccini, preferably)."
Her life of Cleopatra is slightly soft-focused, as if she has applied Vaseline to the lens. It leaves the impression that, like a student taking an exam, she knows only a little more than what she writes. Sometimes she nods; to say, as she does, that Roman women were without legal rights is incorrect, although they were not allowed to hold political office. That said, she has done her homework and writes elegantly and wittily, creating truly evocative word pictures.

"Successfully dissipating all the perfume, Schiff finds a remarkably complex woman—brutal and loving, dependent and independent, immensely strong but finally vulnerable."
added by bookfitz | editKirkus Reviews (Sep 15, 2010)

» Add other authors (37 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stacy Schiffprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ahlström, LarsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Decréau, LaurenceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miles, RobinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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« Sagesse et méfiance, il n’est rien ici-bas qui soit plus profitable ! »
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Finally, for Max, Millie, and Jo
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Among the most famous women to have lived, Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for twenty-two years.
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The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt. Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world.

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Book description
Biography of the Egyptian Queen, Cleopatra, VII


That Egyptian woman

Dead men don't bite
Cleopatra captures the old man by magic
The golden age never was the present age
Man is by nature a political creature
We must often shift the sails when we wish to arrive in port
An object of gossip for the whole world
Illicit affairs and bastard children
The wickedest woman in history.
Haiku summary

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Hachette Book Group

3 editions of this book were published by Hachette Book Group.

Editions: 0316001929, 0316120448, 1607887010


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