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Cleopatra: A Life (2010)

by Stacy Schiff

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,2531852,651 (3.67)1 / 367
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
    Personal History by Katharine Graham (Menagerie)
    Menagerie: Two strong women that lived centuries apart but faced many of the same obstacles.
  4. 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.
  5. 10
    Antony and Cleopatra by Adrian Goldsworthy (bookfitz)

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

» See also 367 mentions

English (183)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (185)
Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
I've been fascinated with Ancient Egypt in general, and Cleopatra in particular, for as long as I can remember. I was excited to read this book, but ultimately I came away somewhat disappointed. I was expecting something... grander; more magical, maybe. I understand that the author was working with limited information. Very little is known about Cleopatra's life, and what information we do have tends to contradict itself. Even so, I found the book dull in spots and slow moving. I came away with a lot of information I didn't already know, and I'm glad I read the book, but I'm going to keep looking for a better, more vivid take on this fascinating woman's life. ( )
  Elizabeth_Cooper | Oct 27, 2023 |
I can't read this anymore. Maybe it would make more sense if I knew more about that time period, but it just isn't working for me.

On hold for awhile, maybe permanently.

I'm having a hard time with this book. The author has lots of interesting information and analysis to share, but is presenting it in a somewhat haphazard fashion. I'm going to stick through to the end though.

( )
  lschiff | Sep 24, 2023 |
Make no mistake: this is an impressive work of research. However, there’s little source material for Schiff to work from (almost all of it the work of enemies or published decades after the events unfolded), and the author is cautious to remain within the confines of the evidence when drawing inferences about Cleopatra’s attributes or motives – all of which makes for an excellent work of scholarship, but not necessarily a riveting read.

Not saying I didn’t learn a lot of interesting information about Egypt under the rule of the Ptolemaic kings and Roman politics during the Caesar/Mark Antony/Octavian era – especially given that my only background knowledge was Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra. Parts of this I found genuinely compelling: the stark contrast between the rights of Egyptian women vs. Roman women (attributable to the fact that the Egyptian pantheon was headed by a female – Isis – rather than a male?), the elaborate civil service put in place by the Ptolemaic kings, the somewhat scary parallels between the events that led to the fall of Rome and events happening in the world now.

But am disappointed that, after 300+ pages, I don’t feel like I know much more about Cleopatra then when I began. Was she ever genuinely in love with Caesar and/or Antony, or were these relationships merely political gamesmanship by a shrewd and calculating politician? Was the prosperity experienced by Egypt during her reign due to her masterful leadership, or merely luck? Did she care about preserving Egypt, or were her decisions primarily intended to secure her own safety and pleasure? A less ethical “historian” might have provided answers, thereby crafting a less authoritative text, but perhaps also a more interesting read.

Definitely not downplaying Schiff’s accomplishment here: this is a masterful biography. Just trying to make sure potential readers know what they are getting: lots of interesting history, plenty of juicy political scheming, but not a lot of new insight into the titular queen as a daughter, a woman, a lover, or a ruler. ( )
  Dorritt | Aug 8, 2023 |
I've been staring at this book on my shelf for MANY years. I bought it at a local bookstore and one of the workers there told me it was a great fictional tale about Cleopatra. Well, they were wrong and it's actually a non-fiction retelling of her entire life. It's like a giant textbook full of archived information. It includes actual information and then commentary about fictional tales, rumours and gossip (but told in a very honest way). This book will give you all the ins and outs of Cleopatra's life. She's not Elizabeth Taylor by any means. This was a young woman who was charismatic, very beautiful and had one interesting life.

You're going to want to love history and facts to get into this book. It's all non-fiction. It's not written in a "fun" tone, it's all educational. I was honestly surprised but really loved it. It took me back to my school days and I didn't mind one bit. It was interesting seeing the footnotes, endnotes and references throughout the book. One-fourth of this book was just the references! It blew my mind but also made me respect Stacy Schiff. This book was well planned out and well researched, you can tell.

We won't ever truly know Cleopatra and her life 100%, that's for sure, but Stacy Schiff gives us a wonderful insight into this woman's insane world.

Four out of five stars. ( )
  Briars_Reviews | Aug 4, 2023 |
Very early on in this book the author talks about the myth surrounding Cleopatra and freely admits there's really no way to separate fact from fiction when it comes to telling her life story, stating that the true historical facts have been lost to time. And yet, she then proceeds to dedicate almost 300 pages giving her opinion on what she feels is the most accurate account. I've no doubt she's making an educated guess but in the long run, that's all it is . Another guess. Just another version of a story that been told many, many times before. ( )
  kevinkevbo | Jul 14, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 183 (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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