Jason Koivu's Reviews > Cleopatra: A Life

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
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's review
Jul 23, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: biography, history, non-fiction
Read from July 23 to 27, 2012

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 victors and in the end Cleopatra was written about by those Romans who were victorious over her.

What saves Schiff's work from utter sycophancy is that she always lets the reader know that she is offering up alternative possibilities to what may or may not have happened. She never tricks the reader into thinking her statements are fact. Any guess is stated as such.

It's a tall order writing about a woman 2000 years dead, about whom little is truly known even though she's arguably the most famous woman in history. Even without much concrete evidence to go on, Schiff was still able to put together a relatively lengthy biography, and an enjoyably written one at that. It gives just enough background info through numerous footnotes on the movers-and-shakers and the momentous moments of the day. Life in the Mediterranean two millennia ago for the rulers and ruled, with Cleopatra at the center of all things, is richly related within.

Highly recommended for those with an interest in learning about only the most famous woman ever!
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