From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Readers who recognize Goldsworthy (How Rome Fell) as Britain's most prolific and perhaps finest popular historian of Roman times will find him once again at his best. Shakespeare and Hollywood portray Antony and Cleopatra as star-crossed lovers, but historians understand that Antony (83–30 B.C.E.) was Julius Caesar's right-hand man, ruthless and ambitious. Cleopatra (69–30 B.C.E.) was not Egyptian but Greek, descended from Ptolemy, whose family had ruled Egypt for three centuries. She became Caesar's mistress in 48 B.C.E. In the Roman civil war that followed Caesar's assassination four years later, Antony shared power with Caesar's adopted son, Octavian (later emperor Augustus), until they quarreled. Antony and Cleopatra first met in 41 B.C.E. and ruled Egypt together for three years until Octavian's invading armies approached, at which point they both committed suicide. Unlike many competing authors, Goldsworthy never disguises the scanty evidence for many historical events. Some of his best passages review surviving documents, discuss their biases, draw parallels from his vast knowledge of Roman history, and recount what probably happened unless, as he often admits in this thoughtful, deeply satisfying work, even speculation is impossible. Maps.
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A classicist on the ascent, Goldsworthy previously wrote Caesar (2006), to which this title is a natural sequel. It can be seen as a corrective to Diana Preston’s Cleopatra and Antony (2009), which strove to give the Egyptian queen top billing in ancient history’s most famous romance. Affection there may have been between Cleopatra and Caesar’s right-hand man, but love was a political instrument in Cleopatra’s relationship to Caesar and, after his assassination, to Marcus Antonius. Goldsworthy stresses Cleopatra’s twin goals of keeping her throne (to which Caesar restored her) and warding off Egypt’s annexation by the Roman Empire. As for Antony, Goldsworthy, reminding readers of contemporary hostility to him, depicts a personality to counter the condemnations left by Cicero and Augustan propaganda. Still, Antony does not come off well in Goldsworthy’s estimation of him as a mediocre general and a self-interested power seeker. Narrating his and Cleopatra’s parts in the tumultuous end of the Roman Republic, Goldsworthy skillfully integrates the partial and partisan source material into an accessible presentation of a classic tale from classical times. --Gilbert Taylor