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Cleopatra: A Life Paperback – September 6, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 6, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316001945
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316001946
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (569 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,304 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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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Customer Reviews

Very well written book.
Cat Lady
Stacy Schiff took a great risk when she wrote "Cleopatra: A Life."
Amazon Customer
Rarely do I read a book that I find I just can't get through.
Liz Martin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

522 of 553 people found the following review helpful By Terri J. Rice TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 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 By Karen Kells on November 14, 2010
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 By Amazon Customer on November 5, 2010
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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