Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
A Life

81%

17 Critic Reviews

Ms. Schiff manages to tell Cleopatra's story with a balance of the tragic and the hilarious.
-WSJ online

Synopsis

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.
 

About Stacy Schiff

See more books from this Author
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.
 
Published November 1, 2010 by Little, Brown and Company. 407 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Education & Reference, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
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Critic reviews for Cleopatra
All: 17 | Positive: 14 | Negative: 3

Kirkus

Good

...Schiff finds a remarkably complex woman—brutal and loving, dependent and independent, immensely strong but finally vulnerable.

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NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Kathryn Harrison on Nov 04 2010

It’s dizzying to contemplate the thicket of prejudices, personalities and propaganda Schiff penetrated to reconstruct a woman whose style, ambition and audacity make her a subject worthy of her latest biographer. After all, Stacy Schiff’s writing is distinguished by those very same virtues.

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NY Times

Good
on Nov 01 2010

Writing with verve and style and wit, Ms. Schiff recreates Cleopatra’s lavish courting of Antony...

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Miranda Seymour on Jan 21 2011

Mystery has never ceased to cloak Cleopatra...Much, despite Schiff's formidable and spellbinding achievement, still remains open to question.

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Guardian

Excellent
on Jul 22 2011

Luscious and scrupulous is a difficult combination to pull off, but Stacy Schiff does so in her life of Cleopatra.

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Guardian

Excellent
on Jan 22 2011

Schiff proves brilliant at peeling away the layers of myth in which earlier storytellers shrouded the Egyptian queen.

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WSJ online

Good
on Nov 02 2010

Ms. Schiff manages to tell Cleopatra's story with a balance of the tragic and the hilarious.

Read Full Review of Cleopatra: A Life | See more reviews from WSJ online

National Post arts

Excellent
on Dec 10 2010

We may never fully decipher this ancient figure, but Schiff’s will be the Cleopatra of our time.

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LA Times

Excellent
on Nov 07 2010

Taking Cleopatra's political goals seriously, Schiff reanimates her as a living, breathing woman: utterly extraordinary, to be sure, but recognizably human.

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The Washington Post

Good
Reviewed by Marie Arana on Nov 02 2010

But for all its splendor of detail, Schiff's book is a model of concision, and its brisk, vividly written chapters move with a swiftness the Nile never enjoyed.

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The Telegraph

Good
on Dec 09 2010

Schiff has produced a highly literary, imaginative, coherent narrative...

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San Francisco Chronicle

Excellent
on Nov 24 2010

...it is admirable that Schiff could create such a drama-filled and accessible narrative, especially one so rich in detail.

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Oregon Live

Excellent
on Oct 30 2010

Schiff shares the talents that made her subject such a standout in her time: wit, rhetorical skill and keen intelligence.

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The Daily Beast

Good
on Nov 05 2010

With a clear eye, great courage, and formidable erudition, Stacy Schiff has succeeded...

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The New York Review of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Mary Beard on Jan 13 2011

So Schiff invents a picture of the infant princess “scamper[ing] down the colonnaded walkways of the palace,” “play[ing] with terra-cotta dolls and dollhouses,”…[being] comfortable among politicians, ambassadors, scholars.” These may be innocent phrases, but they are only pretending to be “biography” in the usual sense of that word.

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Book Forum

Good
on Nov 01 2010

...Stacy Schiff...plucks at this riddle and what she discovers—about Cleopatra and the men who made her myth—is astonishing.

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Persephone Magazine

Below average
on Jan 17 2012

Though Schiff can impart significance and drama to events we aren’t even sure actually happened, there are times where — perhaps due to academic restraint — she falls short.

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