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Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire

3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  95 ratings  ·  33 reviews
A New York Times Notable Book of 2007

Cleopatra's Nose
is an exuberant gathering of essays and profiles, representing twenty years of Judith Thurman's writing, particularly her fascination with human vanity, femininity, and "women's work"--a term that, in her definition, encompasses haute couture, literature, and ruling empires. The subjects are varied--Cleopatra,JackieKe
Paperback, 448 pages
Published October 28th 2008 by Picador (first published 2007)
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Lauren Van vice
I don't normally review anything I haven't finished or used but this is one of those books that will likely live by my bed for a year or two as I pick my way through it between things.

Thurman is sharp. I sat for a while trying to come up with a suitable adjective and that's where I arrived. Sometimes she's delicate in her writing but she is never soft. She doesn't stop to explain things unless it gives her the opportunity to wax poetic about the semi-erotic experience of tasting tofu prepared in
Every sentence in every essay stabs. She's so smart, reading her is like an ice-pick lobotomy that makes you smarter and more sensitive.No one has ever made me feel like reading Flaubert so much.
Fer Silva
Para los hispanohablantes que se topen con este libro (no pude encontrar una edición en español donde poner mi comentario) y estén indecisos entre empezarlo o no sólo les puedo decir: ¡Háganlo! No se arrepentirán. No sólo es un deleite el leer la fluidez narrativa y lengua mordaz con la que Thurman nos envuelve en sus ensayos, sino que es interesante y de cierta forma, impresionante, darnos cuenta de la cantidad de datos curiosos, datos históricos y anécdotas que esta mujer tiene para dar, sin c ...more
Thurman writes beautiful, precise sentences that spool out to form vivid, erudite essays. I found her many aphorisms completely delightful and deft. From her essay on the biographies of Charlotte Bronte: "novel-writing seems to be a work of high-minded betrayal and biography a work of dirty-minded fidelity;" from her essay on Cristobal Balenciaga: "Piety and chic may not obviously be compatible, but penitents and perfectionists tend to have a lot in common." I'll be reading her biographies soon, ...more
I picked this up because I had read and enjoyed Thurman's Isak Dinesen The Life of a Storyteller. Overall, Thurman can write and makes wonderful use of the language.

However, there are far too many essays about fashion for a non-fashionista like me to really, truly, enjoy the book. I doubt really want to read about Chanel or Blass.

The essays that are not concealed with fashion are interesting. Perhaps the most interesting is the one that describes the history and process of tofu. I still don't li
This is the first book that I read because of Good Reads. I'll let you know what I think of it when I've read more.

I didn’t ever read that much more. I read three of the essays and started on a few that I never finished. I picked it up after having read a couple Good Reads reviews because it seemed like an intelligent dealing of desire. I was most interested in the texts about fashion. Critical writing of fashion is something that I have been wanting to read. The commercialist celebrity cult th
Leah W
"I had no opaque white underpants to wear under my own white linen suit, looked for a pair up and down the rue de Rennes, couldn't find any-there is no such thing, in Paris, as opaque white under pants, which is a reason to love Paris[.:]"

Initially, I wasn't terribly fond of this book. Perhaps I shouldn't have read this right after Twenty-Eight Artists and Two Saints, which is also by a woman who writes for the New Yorker (Joan Acocella), who also writes book reviews of artists, but is better-kn
Feb 28, 2008 Jessica rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: worldly, intellectual women who live in manhattan, or who would, if they lived in new york
Recommended to Jessica by: ginnie
This isn't bad or anything, but I'm just not that into it. I've read a few of the essays and I'm just kind of bored, and keep picking up the Robert Moses instead of this at every chance I get. If I'd paid for this book, or even if I didn't have a ginormous stack of other things I'm dying to read, I'd keep going, but I'm just not feeling terribly enthusiastic about it. I think one problem I'm having is that Thurman's essays don't ever give me any kind of "we're in this together" kind of feeling; ...more
These are Thurman's collected essays from her work for The New Yorker. I had read many of them when they were first published, but her work is so crisply and eloquently written that it is a pleasure to re-read these essays. A big to-read list grew from reading this book-- starting tonight with "A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie Antoinette's Perfumer."

I especially love Thurman's writing on fashion and fashion figures. She is able to put fashion and style in a socio-historical context
Aug 27, 2008 Cindy rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people studying or interested in women's issues
Shelves: abandoned
If I was reading with a dictionary I'd be learning a whole new vocabulary. These essays by Judith Thurman, a staff writer for The New Yorker, are brilliant and so erudite I can feel my brain stretching. They are essays usually about women, but they explore unusual aspects of being a woman, women's work, or a particular woman being profiled. So far I've read about a bulimic performance artist, the making of tofu in Japan, Diane Arbus, etc. The Diane Arbus essay inspired me to check out a catalogu ...more
Judith Thurman writes for The New Yorker, and is most well known for her articles about fashion designers - the big ones like Balenciagia, Chanel, Schiaparelli, Saint Laurent. All of these and more are included in this collection, but one of my favorite essays is called "Eminence Rose", about Mme. de Pompadour. One of Thurman's observations.."If Hillary Clinton had held evey cabinet position in her husbands administration and controlled every appointment, her influence might have approximated Po ...more
Kristen Leanna
I loved this book! In fact, I'd have finished it much sooner had I not become ill in the middle of reading it. It's a dense book, over 400 pages, but it never felt long to me. Quite the opposite actually, I couldn't get enough! I enjoyed every single one of her essays and, I think, learned something from each one. Her writing is brilliant and insightful. I've never read The New Yorker but I know its reputation, and this is exactly the caliber of writing I'd expect from a magazine that carries so ...more
Present from my darling husband. . . and what a wonderful read. Thurman makes one so much more informed in so little space, almost by magic, the way Colette makes one automatically more sophisticated (and sexy) in a page or two. I am lapping this up. . .
So I should perhaps add, as a caveat, that after the miscellaneous first section there is a heavy dose of fashion writing. If that's not your thing, well, perhaps try something else by Thurman. But if, like me, you're fascinated by plumage and st
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of essays from the New Yorker. Thurman is an attentive writer and a knowledgeable woman, and the two combine quite well. The collection unfortunately begins with some of the more lackluster articles - I admittedly didn't like the article on bulimia at all - but the fashion and biography articles, two topics on which Thurman is very strong, are excellent. It's highly suggested - and you can always skip articles you don't like, anyways.
Ryan Chapman
I'm pretty much addicted to any collection of essays culled from the New Yorker, and Thurman doesn't disappoint. Her topics are wide-ranging and always grounded despite their beautiful prose. I pick this one off the shelf when I'm between books, open to a random essay, and often find something illuminating. Especially great is the opening essay on performance art and eating disorders.
Mar 09, 2008 Lynn rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fashionistas
Read about half of it, and found that I had previously many of the pieces in The New Yorker. I liked some of the essays and found others boring, so I recommend you pick and choose. I really liked the essay about Elsa Schiaparelli, not the one about Anne Frank. I think the best ones are about fashion, but personally I am not that into fashion or the New York scene.
This book was a bit of a guilty pleasure, since all the articles have been previously published in the New Yorker it was reading a magazine that looks like a book.
Thurman is an great essayist- concise, drawing esoteric parallels and making us hunger for more by the last paragraph.
Laine Bergeson
I couldn't get through this book. Too abstruse. I really wanted to read it, especially on the light rail to work, so that the other riders would think I was smart. But I just wasn't smart enough, I guess. So now they see me reading US Weekly, and I'm fine with that.
Great title. Liked Thurman's bio of Isak Dinesan but not so crazy about her book about Colette. I cannot remember enough about Cleopatra' Nose to give a plausible critique except to say I have learned not to leave anything on the "currently reading" shelves.
As Pliny tells it, Cleopatra challenged Antony to outspend her at dueling banquets, then, to win her bet, dissolved the world's largest pearl - one of a pair she wore as earrings - in a cruet of vinegar and drank it.

-Judith Thurman, Cleopatra's Nose
A collection of essays. Just started it so have only read a few but very well written and interesting. The ones that I had previously read actually seem even better this time around. I admire her mind and her sentences are just beautiful.
Collection of essays that appeared in the New Yorker, unfortunately, my timing of this coincided with getting a subscription to the New Yorker again, so I wasn't as excited about this book as I probably otherwise would have been.
There are no words that can convey how glorious Judith Thurman and her writing are. Her work confronts me with how far I have to go in my writing, but it does so by inspiring, rather than intimidating.
Jan 17, 2008 Sarah rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: intellectuals, feminists
Shelves: makes-you-think
So far I really love this book, although it is definitely not the kind of thing you can read in one sitting. The essays have a very intellectual bent and require close reading. The topics are fascinating.
I remember several of these essays from my (now unfortunately defunct) New Yorker subscription.

Love the cover design as well...the typography and photo feel very au courant.
I loved the section on the fashion designers, but the rest was really too much for me to sift through... like a super condensed shot of "The New Yorker."
Lisa Green
I've read many of these essays before in the New Yorker but they are a pleasure to revisit. Highly recommended.
An interesting collection of essays by a New Yorker writer. An easy read that is on interesting topics.
brilliant writing from a NEW YORKER staff writer
wide range of cultural subjects, with an emphasis on women
So good. So eclectic. Smartly written. Essays on Diane Arbus and Leni Reifenshtal are especially riveting.
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Judith Thurman began contributing to The New Yorker in 1987, and became a staff writer in 2000. She writes about fashion, books, and culture. Her subjects have included André Malraux, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Thurman is the author of “Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller,” which won the 1983 National Book Award for Non-Fiction, and “Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette,” (
More about Judith Thurman...
Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller I Became Alone: Five Women Poets, Sappho, Louise Labe, Ann Bradstreet, Juana Ines de La Cruz, Emily Dickinson The Artist's Mother I'd Like to Try a Monster's Eye

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“There's some instinctive attraction that draws you, as a writer, to your subject. And the attraction usually has to do with some primal personal thing that, of course, you have no idea about. In the end, the piece always comes down to the one or two sentences you struggle over. The sentences where you try to say explicitly what it is that the two of you, subject and writer, have in common. Those are the sentences that you just bang your head against the wall over until you get them right. It's very hard to make that distillation but that is actually what your job is. Without trying to pin the person like a butterfly to the wall, to sum it up. If I can do that, then I feel satisfied. To give the subject a reality in the form of a sentence that is like a piece of rock crystal or a prism.” 6 likes
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