Nov 29, 2010

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

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.


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.

Visit the author's website at


I applaud Stacy Schiff for the research she has done to complete this story on the life of Cleopatra. Little known historical facts were drawn together in a format that was fairly easy to read. In fact, there was so much about Cleopatra and so many others during this time period, that it was mind-boggling. When I agreed to review this book, I had no idea how much detail would be included.

Hundreds of different sources were used in the author's research for this book. I am really trying to broaden my reading horizons and experience different genres, but unfortunately this book will not be added to my list of favourites. If you are a serious history buff, and if you want to learn absolutely everything about Cleopatra's life, you might want to give this book a try.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of Cleopatra from Hachette Book Group in exchange for my honest review.


  1. I'm excited to read this one -- I've always been fascinated by Cleopatra, and this is a book that I have in my office right now. I really must make sure to read this one right away.

  2. Thank you for this review though it will be a long time coming here where I live. It sounds really very good.