Cleopatra: Book summary and reviews of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra

A Life

by Stacy Schiff

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff X
Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2010
    384 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer brings to life the most intriguing woman in the history of the world: Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt.

Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [An] excellent, myth-busting biography...tragic, page-turning reading. No one will think of Cleopatra in quite the same way after reading this vivid, provocative book." - Publishers Weekly

"Undergraduates, lovers of biography or ancient history, and those seeking an introduction to Cleopatra will delight in this take on the near-mythical last queen of Egypt." - Library Journal

"Starred Review. Successfully dissipating all the perfume, Schiff finds a remarkably complex woman--brutal and loving, dependent and independent, immensely strong but finally vulnerable." - Kirkus

"It is a beautiful pairing - the most alluring and elusive woman in recorded history, and one of the most gifted biographers of our time. Style, like leadership, is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it. We see it here on every page." - Joseph J. Ellis, author of Founding Brothers and First Family: Abigail and John

"Cleopatra is buried under centuries of lies, and Stacy Schiff calls on her considerable powers to bring her back to life for us. With wit, clarity, and grace, Schiff has done what only the best writers can do: she has made the world new, again." - Tracy Kidder, author of Strength in What Remains

"This is an astonishing, scrupulously researched, meticulously assembled retelling of one of the world's most famous lives--and it will become a classic." - Simon Winchester, author of The Man Who Loved China

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Reader Reviews

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Joann

Details, details, details.
I thought the first half of the book was a bit of a slog: exhaustive details, but the second half was a blazing prairie fire! Liz Taylor's Cleopatra has been erased from my mind forever!

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Author Information

Stacy Schiff

Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.

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