Stephanie's Reviews > Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Mar 14, 11

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction, female-author
Read in March, 2011

Welp, I'm pretty infatuated with this book.(in b4 "THAT MAKES SENSE CAUSE IT'S ABOUT CLEOPATRA LOL LOL LOL.")

Schiff deserves kudos for taking a subject that's been hashed out ad nauseum for over two millenia and somehow putting a new spin on it. Not an easy task. It helps that the first chapter involves the author delineating the struggle faced by any present day historian in piecing together the story of Cleopatra's life. Between a combination of her victors writing propaganda, the destruction of the library in at this pointAlexandria, and, y'know, the passing of time, it's a tad difficult to discern what actually happened.

Part of me is tempted to give this book five stars solely because Schiff comes down pretty hard on on the exoticism and orientalism found in many accounts of Cleopatra. (Both at the time of her life and in the centuries following.) The author also deserves kudos for refusing to limit herself to Cleopatra's love affairs. One of the best sections of the book involves Cleopatra's constant political struggles with Herod!

Sometimes I'm tempted to dock a star just because the book sometimes comes across more as a biography of the various contemporary political struggles of the Mediterranean. It risks losing focus of the ostensible subject of the book. In this case, however, it may be justified in that they, at least, had direct bearing on her life and political choices. It would be odd to write a biography about Cleopatra and ignore the political struggles of Rome. When the author is able to, she always turns the spotlight back on the Queen of Egypt. Schiff is clearly invested in calling out the assertion that Cleopatra was simply a destructive seductress. The author portrays a complex, not always positive (but never overwhelmingly negative), portrait of a powerful woman. Cleopatra is a skilled politician, a murderer, a patron of arts and science, and a strategist. She is snarky, ambitious, and possibly harbors imperialist tendencies. And this welcoming of nuance is what sets Cleopatra: A Life above many other renditions of her story.

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Reading Progress

03/04/2011 page 180
47.0% "I knew a lot about Cleopatra going in, but somehow the author makes it all seem new... and tells me a lot I DIDN'T know, more importantly! Really enjoying this one, far more than expected."
03/11/2011 page 280
74.0% "Marc Antony: Politics! How does it work!!"

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