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Cleopatra: A Life [Kindle Edition]

Stacy Schiff
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (562 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.99
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $7.00 (41%)
Sold by: Hachette Book Group

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Book Description

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 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.


Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. From its opening strains of music, this audiobook of Schiff's stellar biography of the Egyptian queen rewards the intellect and the senses. As Schiff dusts away history's spider webs, romance's distortions, and sexism's corruptions to reveal the true (or at least the truest possible) portrait of Cleopatra, Robin Miles's voice is deep, confiding, the perfect instrument to introduce a history that has been variously forgotten, misunderstood, or suppressed. Her enunciation is crisp, her pacing pure charm: she wrings every sentence for meaning, irony, and wit, taking us through pages of description or analysis with a stately pace. A Little, Brown hardcover. (Nov.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

For those who think they know enough about Cleopatra or have the enigmatic Egyptian queen all figured out, think again. Schiff, demonstrating the same narrative flair that captivated readers of her Pulitzer Prize–winning Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) (1999), provides a new interpretation of the life of one of history’s most enduringly intriguing women. Rather than a devastatingly beautiful femme fatale, Cleopatra, according to Schiff, was a shrewd power broker who knew how to use her manifold gifts—wealth, power, and intelligence—to negotiate advantageous political deals and military alliances. Though long on facts and short on myth, this stellar biography is still a page-turner; in fact, because this portrait is grounded so thoroughly in historical context, it is even more extraordinary than the more fanciful legend. Cleopatra emerges as a groundbreaking female leader, relying on her wits, determination, and political acumen rather than sex appeal to astutely wield her power in order to get the job done. Ancient Egypt never goes out of style, and Cleopatra continues to captivate successive generations. --Margaret Flanagan

Product Details

  • File Size: 1583 KB
  • Print Length: 407 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 075353956X
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1 edition (November 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003YFIVHW
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #30,440 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
522 of 553 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cleopatra- A Queen Without a Face September 5, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Her ancestry is,"an ungainly shrub of a family tree," full of incest. Cleopatra's great-grandmother was both wife and niece of Ptolemy VIII. Cleopatra's own husband was also her brother and a mere boy at the start of their marriage, ten years old to her eighteen years. Of the fifteen family marriages, ten were full brother-sister unions. Two other Ptolemies married nieces or cousins.

Schiff has done an admirable job of taking the reputable historians accounts, chopped away at the absurd and pandering or those filled with a particular hatred and whittled Cleopatra's life down to a fascinating and believable historical account.

What of that story wherein Cleopatra arrives in the palace of Caesar wrapped in a hemp rug to curry favor for her reign over that of her husband/brother? Did she really seduce Caesar and thereby bear his son? Or was it Caesar who seduced her?

Stacy Schiff herself admits, "there is not universal agreement on most of even the basic details of Cleopatra's life. So much of this history is simply not known." Childhood was simply not a subject worthy of papyrus and further, papyrus did not survive the ravages of time. So even Schiff is often left with, "may have's," "may well have's," and must have's" in an attempt to piece together the life of an alluring woman that began in 69 BC.

Schiff's conclusions are fair and well researched making this a historical account of great significance, however, there is so little absolute verifiable information about Cleopatra that Schiff and all other historians are left to make an educated guess at best about actual details of her life.

If you are looking for a light read about this fascinating woman the cover art might fool you into believing this is the book for you. It is not, if however, you are looking for an historical account full of minutiae and conjecture this will delight you.
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273 of 291 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I'm an avid reader and certainly don't mind books by and/or about men, however, I've always wished there were more books about dynamic, interesting women. "Cleopatra: A Life" more than fulfilled this wish. What I knew about Cleopatra before I read this book came from long ago college classes, the movie with Elizabeth Taylor, and a viewing of the play about her and Antony at a Shakespeare festival. I had the vague impression that Cleopatra was first and foremost a woman who would cast an unbreakable sexual spell on any man who was convenient for her to control. I'm so glad and thankful that Stacy Schiff shows us that Cleopatra was so much more than a seductress; Cleopatra had wit, charm and superlative intelligence.

The fact that Cleopatra lived through her 20's is a tribute to her intelligence alone, as I simply could not believe just how commonplace murder was for those with power in the ancient world. Then, to maintain her position as Egypt's sovereign, Cleopatra's circumstances dictated that she had to ally herself with the Romans, the world's greatest power at the time. For a time, Cleopatra maintained the upper-hand in the power relations with two of the most powerful Romans, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony; with both men she had much written about sexual relationships. In the end, Rome became her enemy, and they also became her biographer. After reading "Cleopatra: A Life", I get the sense that the patriarchal Romans couldn't bring themselves to write a narrative showing that two of their greatest leaders were outwitted by a woman. Imagine what a biography of Monica Lewinsky would be like if it were written by ardent supporters of Bill Clinton.
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177 of 192 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Stacy Schiff took a great risk when she wrote "Cleopatra: A Life." Can a woman branded a "whore" by the Great Bard himself, ever really have a reputation as anything else? Directly challenging 2,000 year old assumptions that were enhanced by the likes of Dante, and director Joseph Mankiewicz, is a tall order for even the most accomplished writer. Ms. Schiff brilliantly rises to the task.

Ms. Schiff brings to vivid life a very different Cleopatra from the one depicted to us by playwrights and movie directors. Instead of a wanton seductress relying solely upon her looks, Cleopatra was one of the most authoritative rulers in the history of humanity, inheriting at the age of 18 one of the greatest kingdoms ever known, during a time in history when women had about the same social stature as farm animals.

Furthermore, Ms. Schiff is a wordsmith extraordinaire. In beautifully constructed prose that reminded me more of Nabokov than your typical biographer, Ms. Schiff paints a lovely, nuanced portrait of a great and vastly misunderstood woman. And what life the author brings to ancient Egypt too! The descriptions of the ancient world in which Cleopatra lived were so vivid that you would think the author was Cleopatra's contemporary, and not her 21st century biographer.

Ms. Schiff had a tough act to follow with herself; all her previous books have won, or been nominated for, just about every pretigious literary award you can think of.
I wouldn't be surprised if she at least gets on the short-list for the Pulitzer with "Cleopatra: A Life."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning world in BC
Great book for a course in the history of Egypt and the Roman Empire. However it is not easy reading. It has lots of information and the author did a superb job I research. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Arm candi
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
brilliant all around...
Published 10 days ago by marilyn michaels
5.0 out of 5 stars History was never more interesting! Cleopatra comes to life!
This book is incredibly engaging both intellectually and entertainingly! Thank you Stacy Schiff!!! I love how Schiff brings to life Cleopatra's incredible life with such detail... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Michelle W. Hart
4.0 out of 5 stars If you enjoy history, especially ancient Roman history
If you enjoy history,especially ancient Roman history, you will really enjoy this book.
Published 17 days ago by Joseph Kilkeary
4.0 out of 5 stars I recommend this book to my friends
Well researched and articulately written. The author explains how the, surprising, dearth of actual historical material concerning Cleopatra obliged her to plumb other period... Read more
Published 24 days ago by dennis murphy
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing book <33
this book is not exclusively on Cleopatra, as Cleopatra's life was connected to so many others. This book is an amazing biography, it not only goes over the multiple theories... Read more
Published 1 month ago by D. myers
3.0 out of 5 stars Tips for the next edition
The facts I learned from this book were fascinating, however overall there was too much detail and it became tedious reading. Read more
Published 1 month ago by book club reader
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Book reads very easily and provides a lot of information on Cleopatra. Definitely gives you a different perspective than what is traditionally told.
Published 1 month ago by Pat Louden
4.0 out of 5 stars Great
Too long ago--don't remember. But I know that I liked it and learned a lot. (You go girl, Cleo!) Wow!
Published 1 month ago by Marilyn Novak
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting but not great
"Cleopatra: A Life" was an interesting read but I would not call it a great biography. I realize there is little thai was written while Cleopatra was alive that survives. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Murray H. Siegel
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More About the Author

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 and the Ambassador Book Award. Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. The recipient of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, she lives in New York City.

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Interesting book: Kindle price too high
The comments about the price may be valid, but as has been noted, it's set by the publisher, not Amazon. Given that, as someone whose house is full of books and whose eyes have grown old, Kindle versions of books fulfill two very important requirements. They take up no space and they are ALL... Read More
Nov 23, 2010 by R. B. Meek |  See all 33 posts
Cleopatra's hair
Hmmm, how do we know this? Just because of her Macedonian ancestors? I would like to know what authorities feel that she was blonde. I have read several historical, well
received books on her and never heard this one.
Nov 23, 2010 by Sweet Pea #2 |  See all 14 posts
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