Jaclyn Day's Reviews > Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Oct 12, 2011

really liked it

It’s a talented writer who can take a historical figure (albeit one steeped in mythology and intrigue) about which almost nothing is known with certainty and turn out a fact-based, in-depth book.

I don’t want to turn this review into a synopsis (as is so easy to do with biographies), but instead point out that this book will attract and hold the attention of a specific type of person and will likely bore anyone else to some extent. If you’re a fan of Cleopatra, ancient Rome/ancient Egypt, historical biographies—you will enjoy this book. If you’re picking it up expecting some kind of Philippa Gregory treatment? Walk away.

What is remarkable about Schiff’s Cleopatra is that what most people have found so intriguing about her is completely stripped away. She is portrayed as a calculating monarch, not as a wanton, sexually-charged queen. She is not Elizabeth Taylor and she’s not particularly romantic. This book has stripped away the years of myth and tried to provide a strictly historical account of the events of her life.

I say “tried,” though, because even though I feel much more knowledgeable about Cleopatra after reading this book, there is (to some extent) still a complete mystery surrounding the woman. Is it because we only have a few examples of what she looked like? Is it because none of her writings have survived? It could also be because her final resting place has never been uncovered. Whatever the variables, this woman is still an enigma, although much less of one after reading this. Schiff has boiled Cleopatra down to a historical figure, but in that boiling down, we have also lost some of the interesting anecdotal points that other people who lived in her time have in spades.
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10/25/2016 marked as: read

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