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Cleopatra: A Life

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  112,277 ratings  ·  5,542 reviews
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 year
Paperback, 432 pages
Published September 6th 2011 by Back Bay Books (first published November 1st 2010)
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Jane Julius Caesar, Octavian, Caesarion (Cleopatra's son, and probable son of Caesar), Marc Antony, Cicero, Pompey …moreJulius Caesar, Octavian, Caesarion (Cleopatra's son, and probable son of Caesar), Marc Antony, Cicero, Pompey (less)
Jennifer Delgadillo Yes! Especially feminist, history or even journalism and media analysis book clubs. what stood out to me most about this book was the examination of t…moreYes! Especially feminist, history or even journalism and media analysis book clubs. what stood out to me most about this book was the examination of the time, subjects and bias in the sources that we learn from about Cleopatra. I am not a historian and I've only read a couple books somewhat related to this time in history and I found this to be an entertaining, easy read. (less)

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First and foremost this is a history book. The plot is taken from real time 2,000 years ago. It hasn't been bloated with fantastical elements or intense drama. In fact, if you were reading this book as you would a work of fiction, you'll find yourself sadly lacking that same kind of connection to Cleopatra as you would to a main character in a novel. Why? Because Cleopatra is nearly unknowable. And she's not a fictional character. She's spoken of from a distance, seen more through the eyes of me ...more
Mar 29, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Among the most famous women to have lived, Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt for twenty-two years. She lost a kingdom once, regained it, nearly lost it again, amassed an empire, lost it all. A goddess as a child, a queen at eighteen, a celebrity soon thereafter, she was an object of speculation and veneration, gossip and legend, even in her own time…”
- Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

One of the things that children are really good at doing is reminding you of all the things you don’t know. At the dinner
Elizabeth Sulzby
So far, I am very disappointed in this book--by a Pulitzer Prize winning author. She uses very long paragraphs that should have been divided. She puts her points embedded so that it's hard for a reader to see what she intends to be significant. There are "clever" pieces that are not at all clever.

The author says she will not create material but may create context from other sources, but she does not give the reader cues. For example, in Chapter II she goes on and on about Cleopatra's education,
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, buddy-read
There is something about biographies of people you hear so much about but know so little that stirs me up. Anyone who mentions the name ‘Cleopatra’ is sure to have an image in their mind, if only the depiction that Elizabeth Taylor made of the Egyptian queen in 1963. Stacy Schiff takes the reader along a winding adventure into the world before the Common Era, where actions to unite came at the cost of land and life, both bloody endeavours. Through her tedious research, Schiff brings to life a wo ...more
Stacy Schiff has a serious girl crush on Cleopatra. If you want to read 300 pages about how awesome Queen Cleo was, then this is the book for you!

I remembered little about the famous Egyptian ruler from world history class in high school, and I don't think the Elizabeth Taylor movie counts as a documentary, so Schiff's book felt like my introduction to Cleopatra. The book covers her family, her childhood, her education, her ability to charm and manipulate, her relationships with Julius Caesar an
Sara (taking a break)
Perhaps of all the historic characters we think we know, but don’t, Cleopatra ranks at the top of the list. Sometimes a legend is so well-known that we lose track of the fact that a real human being was living this story, fighting these battles, and harboring these emotions. What an extraordinary person she must have been to have lived through so much in her short thirty-nine years and to have influenced history in the way that she did.

First fact that I did not know. She was Cleopatra VII. The
Felice Laverne
Released to rave reviews and the full packaging monty of its publisher, Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra took the NYT by storm in 2011, remaining there for months. And no wonder! This kamikaze of masterly writing, meticulous and thorough research, and humanizing hand of the author did a spectacular job of unmasking the woman behind the myth and debunking the lies we today call slander.

This is the biography of Queen Cleopatra VII Philopator (as the title implies) but it is done unlike any other. (PLEAS
Jason Koivu
Jul 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life is speculative, borderline revisionist history. It is unabashedly pro-Cleopatra, and ya know what? That's okay!

Schiff looks at all the historical accounts - many of which did not paint the Egyptian queen in a kindly light - and attempts to distort the image so that the portrait favors her subject much more than history has. For all that, Schiff offers sound speculation. Her what-ifs and perhapses chime with the ring of truth. After all, history is written by the
Cleopatra: A Life by Pulitzer-prize winning historian Stacy Schiff was well-researched and well-sourced biographical account of the life of Cleopatra. Ms. Schiff does a good job of trying to separate the myth as well as the mystique of the life of Cleopatra from the romantic accounts by Shakespeare to George Bernard Shaw in poetry to the historical record. As Schiff points out, much of the confusion arises from the fact that Cleopatra's family styled themselves as pharaohs for ten generations wh ...more
"When Egypt Ruled the East" by George Steindorff this book is not.

I have read many books on Egyptian history all the way up through the Ptolemies who, somehow, through some sort of rhetorical magic, were made to be as dry and dull as dead leaves in winter in "Cleopatra: A Life." I have read many history books. I consider myself a bit of a connoisseur of the genre. I even inhale historical fiction. Some of these books have been utter and complete crap. I have manned up and finished books that wou
Rick Riordan
Nov 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's amazing what a rich portrait Schiff created when we have so few sources to draw from about Cleopatra's life. ...more
Kelly A.

The number one thing that I learned from Cleopatra: A Life was this: I had deceived myself in thinking I knew anything about her before reading this book. Stacy Schiff digs deep into the life of one of the most well-known, yet misunderstood women in history. Most of us know her as the Egyptian queen who had affairs/children with both Caesar and Mark Antony, the two most powerful men of their age. She herself was much, much more than that.

Cleopatra was a fa
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was incredible. The depth in which Stacy Schiff took her book is incredible, both in scope as well as in narrative prowess. She takes a story that has been told countless times and meticulously shows how that picture we all have of Cleopatra, the last Ptolemaic queen, has been influenced and changed over the centuries and what might be the truth underneath all the propaganda. And she does it with wry wit and a wonderful sense of pacing.

I obviously knew the bare bones of the story going in (
Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨

✨ Popsugar Reading Challenge 2019✨
✨✨A book by an author whose first and last name start with the same letter✨✨

Biographies can fall into one of two categories: academic or entertainment. While this book was clearly first and foremost entertainment, there is not doubt in my mind that a lot of academic work proceeded its making. There is so much research and work put into this book, but all the same it reads almost like a novel. Schiff's ability to set th
Grace Tjan
What I learned from this book (in no particular order):

1. Cleo was an insatiable vamp who seduced two of the most powerful men in Rome using her feminine wiles. Cleo might have used her wiles to seduce them, but both Julius and Mark were hardly paragons of chastity themselves: Julius specialized in seducing “aristocratic wives”, while Mark had numerous affairs with both single and married women.

2. Cleo looked like Elizabeth Taylor with too much mascara. We just don’t really know how she looked.
Bren fall in love with the sea.
“As always, an educated woman was a dangerous woman.”
― Stacy Schiff, Cleopatra: A Life

I found this book to be good but not exceptional. Part of that is that I have read so many books on Cleopatra. My favorite is "I Cleopatra" which was published in the seventies and I really look to that book as being the Gold Standard of all things Cleopatra.

Also this book is difficult to get into..at least at first. I did warm up to it but some aspects were more interesting then others. I appreciate all the r
Kim Berkshire
Disappointed in this. Was really looking forward to it after it made so many Top 10 of 2010 lists, but I was sufficiently underwhelmed. Subject matter really interested me, so I would have been very forgiving, but this book jumped all over the place. One criticism I had read was that the author takes a lot of liberties based on her exhaustive research, some of which are just silly. Concur.
February and March are insanely busy and I usually find little time to read during these months, but even b
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Cleopatra unsettles more as sage than as seductress; it is less threatening to believe her fatally attractive than fatally intelligent.

Beauty? Intelligence (and running your country successfully for so long)!
Snake poison? No, poison that is just like going to sleep (no naked breast, but carefully positioned by two also-then-dying servant ladies, before the conqueror of your land finds out - this event was so well written in this book)!

This book aims to clear her name, to show that it was not the
I picked Stacy Schiff's Cleopatra: A Life biography off the library's new releases shelf because 1) I recently realized that I hadn't read a biography since Plutarch's Greek Lives, maybe a decade ago and 2) the latest National Geographic had a cool article on the subject. Cleopatra: A Life was strong, full of detail and suspense, but evidenced some of what keeps me away from biographies in the first place.

I get the sense biography, like all writing, I suppose, is about choices. How will the biog
BAM the enigma “Ask me if you need help with a book”
Reading the introduction I realize what a monumental project writing a biography of Cleopatra must have been for Schiff. Sources are questionable and rare, many dating hundreds of years after the events occurred.
Cleopatra was a sensation during her lifetime. A diplomat, economist, politician, fashion plate, and "outsize personality", Cleopatra built an empire throughout the Mediterranean region. With the help of Julius Caesar, at the age of 21 Cleopatra won both her throne and her citizens back
Larry Wilson
I was very disappointed by this book, the primary reason being the author’s very choppy style. I found the style made it extremely hard to read with no flow to the narrative. Her style used strange placements of the basic sentence elements (I much prefer subject, verb, object order), a plethora of semi-colons and dashes, odd adverbs (use of “as well” and “too” when “also” would have been more appropriate), and multiple short sentences following each other when proper connectors would have greatl ...more
David Jacobs
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stacy Schiff has crafted, somehow, a new angle on one of the world's oldest great stories. By focusing on the first degree sources we have from the period (mostly from Roman scholars & historians, since Alexandria was destroyed by earthquakes), Schiff at once claims expertise but only in a context that is also accessible to the reader. At times Schiff's explanation of the sources and the perceived motivations of their authors feels plodding, but the framing of these sources is essential to Schif ...more
The number one most read and liked review of this book on this site is completely off-base and this review is pretty much going to be a defense of Cleopatra in response to Elizabeth Sulzby's unfair mischaracterization of the work (beginning with her ludicrous shelving of the piece as "historicalfiction").

As someone trained in the art of history research and writing, a history teacher, and a published historian, I found Cleopatra impressive and an eloquent piece of first-rate scholarship. Schiff
May 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Elizabeth Taylor depicted Cleopatra VII onscreen in 1963, and has served as a blueprint for historical fiction writers ever since. As an historian, I typically think of that film with the kind of fond indulgence you'd give a kid whose crayon doodles look nothing like their subject matter: you did your best, buddy! It looks great, I promise! So the 1963 Cleopatra is revisionist history to an extent, and certainly cemented in Western pop culture the image of Cleopatra as a drop-dead gorgeous femme ...more
Cleopatra is one of the most famous women who ever lived. Which is actually quite funny when you realize that the Roman empire did everything in their power to erase her from history.

I don't think I need to tell you who Cleopatra was, but I will anyway. Cleopatra was the last queen of Egypt. She ruled for over 2 decades and is most remembered for her love affairs with 2 of the most powerful men in Rome Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony. History has painted her as a seductress and she has been blam
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started this book with no preconceived notions, so I was really impressed. I don't read alot of straight up history books, preferring fiction. So, when I do read non fiction history I like to read it a little at a time, while I keep a novel going on the side. It took me almost a week to finish it, but I'm glad I took my time. This was a very interesting book, wiping out all Hollywood's gloss. The majority of the book dealt with Cleopatra's life with Antony. I thought she was very smart, very s ...more
Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun)
What a way to start the year
Sally Howes
"In one of the busiest afterlives in history she has gone on to become an asteroid, a video game, a cliché, a cigarette, a slot machine, a strip club, a synonym for Elizabeth Taylor. Shakespeare attested to Cleopatra's infinite variety. He had no idea." In the opening pages of CLEOPATRA: A LIFE, Stacy Schiff sets the tone for what is to follow, and frankly, I found it all, from the first page to the last, to be utterly and sublimely intoxicating. Schiff's reverence for Cleopatra and the umbrage ...more
Daniel Chaikin
38. Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
reader: Robin Miles
published: 2010
format: 14:16 audible audiobook (369 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Jun 22
listened: Jun 23 – Jul 16
rating: 3
locations: Roman Empire
about the author born 1961 in Adams, MA

Cleopatra is famous because, well... because of the men who fathered her children and because she is history's great seductress who first conquered Julius Caesar, and later wooed Mark Antony to his ruin. That's the myth, the one in Roman accounts, and in Shakes
Jan 06, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feministy, biography
I labelled this one as "feministy," because I don't think that Stacy Schiff could deny her "let's re-examine Cleopatra's ACTUAL awesomeness as opposed to this hyper-sexualized harpy-witch-seductress-harlot nonsense" angle. Pulitzer Prize-winning past or no, Schiff delivers fluff here. Good fluff, feminist as opposed to misogynistic fluff, but fluff nonetheless. Grad school is starting to ruin me for reading things that aren't in academic journals; after Schiff would state a presumed fact, my int ...more
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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, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d'Amérique. All three were New York Times Notable Books; ...more

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“As always, an educated woman was a dangerous woman.” 138 likes
“[Cleopatra's] power has been made to derive from her sexuality, for obvious reason; as one of Caesar's murderers had noted, 'How much more attention people pay to their fears than to their memories!' It has always been preferable to attribute a woman's success to her beauty rather than to her brains, to reduce her to the sum of her sex life.” 53 likes
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