Andres's Reviews > Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Jul 21, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: cleopatra
Read from June 15 to 22, 2012

This is the second Cleopatra biography I’ve read, and while I was reading it I realized that any Cleopatra book you read is going to be like hearing about the same incident from different friends: not only are you going to get a clearer and clearer picture the more times you hear it, you’ll also be able to tell a lot about your friends by the details they choose to include, omit, or emphasize.

Here, too, I can start to see where certain elements of Cleopatra’s story are similar for the most part in the big details but different in the specifics and the approach. Schiff’s approach to the material is a bit more laid back, less formal and more ‘gossipy’ but by no means misinformed, which makes for a very entertaining read. Seeing as how this is the most recent biography, some of the details provided here focus on the minutiae of everyday life, a subject that previous books may have overlooked while covering the ‘big picture’, such as what Cleopatra would have learned from her tutors growing up; what she would have had to contend with on a daily basis as the head of vast bureaucracy; and details about that bureaucracy, which rivaled that of Cold War-era Russia.

Aside from some maddeningly worded sentences and sometimes too cryptic allusions, the book does a great job of telling Cleopatra’s story, frequently commenting on the trustworthiness or not of the sources she’s quoting from in order to deconstruct the legends and myths that have had two millennia to accrue on the surprisingly scant facts like barnacles on a hull. The story is told chronologically for the most part but there is some jumping back and forth in time to fill in information gaps, which can get a little confusing at times. Also, some of the more interesting facts don’t cite the sources in the notes so I’m a little put out that we can’t always evaluate how credible the quote, fact, or assertion is for ourselves.

Despite the few hiccups, overall this is a great place to start uncovering the truth behind the legend that is Cleopatra. I recommend this for the interested reader.

Details about the book:
304 pages of text - 33 lines of text per page
41 pages of notes
3 pages of selected bibliography
15 pages of index
2 maps
8 pages of color photos

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