Automotive Holiday Deals Books Gift Guide Books Gift Guide Shop Men's Athletic Shoes Learn more nav_sap_SWP_6M_fly_beacon Black Friday egg_2015 All-New Amazon Fire TV Luxury Beauty Gifts for Her Amazon Gift Card Offer cm15 cm15 cm15 $30 Off Amazon Echo $30 Off Fire HD 6 Kindle Cyber Monday Deals Cyber Monday Video Game Deals Shop Now HTL

Format: Kindle EditionChange
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2011
With her combination of meticulous research and vivid writing, Stacy Schiff takes you straight into the Alexandria of Cleopatra. Schiff is a superb scholar but also has a way of making an emotional connection with the subjects of her books, and this is no exception. Here is Cleopatra seen, not through the eyes of Rome, but in the context of her own legacy and family; in her own kingdom, in her own time. Schiff does not sugar-coat the actions of the Egyptian queen or cast her as the victim of nefarious men; she shows her as a capable, strategic ruler, making decisions that seem shocking to us but were appropriate for her time. The book does not engage in the cheat of "novelizing" or creating motives for characters when those motives are not known, but Schiff's homework is so perfect that, when you read of Cleopatra's sumptuous banquet for Mark Antony in Tarsus, you will smell the food and swear you feel the rose petals brushing your ankles. This is a fresh look at a famous woman, the two famous Romans who loved her, and the end of an era.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
34 of 40 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 16, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As an published author having written (fiction) about ancient Egypt myself, I have to admit I am in awe of this book and its author!

Ms. Schiff went back to the classic sources and considered each as propaganda, exaggerated legend, and/or fact (the latter being an incredibly rare commodity in ancient texts). For the most part, all the ancient sources of information concerning Cleopatra are a mix of all three of the three aforementioned categories. We have very little by way of artifacts and almost nothing of Cleopatra's actual writings (maybe a fragment containing her preferred sign-off, "Let it be done." and possibly a bit of the end of a letter (that may be a copy of the original). Alexandria, the wonder of the world due to the Ptolemies, is now 20 feet underwater and was looted by Octavion immediately after the deaths of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. A few statues, pylons, and broken bits of structures have recently been pulled from the Alexandrian harbor, but not enough underwater research has been done to date to provide us with much new information.

Considering all this, it takes great courage for a Pulitzer Prize winning (among MANY other awards) author to tackle such complicated, albeit compelling, subject matter in hope of extracting a logical, accurate-as-possible of not only Cleopatra herself but the torturous times in which she lived. Ms. Schiff refuses to simply reiterate either the oft-repeated Roman propaganda concerning the Egyptian monarch (the Romans despised Cleopatra, in great part due to the manipulations and falsifications of the scheming, obsessive, murderous and ultra-devious Octavion, aka Augustus ) or the glamorously romantic vision conjured and elaborated on by Shaw, Shakespeare, at least 3 spectacular Hollywood films (one silent), and numerous imitators.

This volume not only makes an exhaustive effort to provide us with a clear understanding of the mind and life of one of the world's greatest leaders, male or female, but manages to successfully weave Cleopatra the person into the hellishly confusing context of the treacherous world in which she lived.

This is, admittedly, no light read. If that is what is desired, readers might as well pick up the novel based on the Taylor/Burton cinematic extravaganza of a few decades ago. Ms. Schiff's style is scholarly and intense but not beyond the ken of most educated readers willing to pay attention to what they are reading (turn off the TV and rid yourself of background noise). There's a lot to keep track of, yes, but the story takes place in very complex and confusing times. Murder, even within one's own family was rampant, betrayal was a daily event, and a flash of gold or promise of power could turn a monarch's head so quickly that he barely caught a fleeting glimpse of his most loyal comrade as he wields a deadly weapon furiously over his head.

It would be pointless to try and encapsulate the contents of the book in a short review, so I won't try. I will say I found it to be an admirably fascinating and enlightening read that was amazingly well-researched and stylishly written. Myths are considered and often dismissed as the creations of extremely opinionated authors of and after Cleopatra's time.

Above all, however, this is the first book that struggles (successfully, in my opinion) to reveal to readers Cleopatra the person rather than the myth; she was not only a brilliant ruler but (to the shock of the ancient world) also a woman. Not only was she other than the dazzlingly irresistible vamp and witch of legend, but she possessed a mind, charm, education and wit so incredible that the two greatest leaders of the Roman world were so captivated by her that they were willing, even eager, to risk their lives and their countries just to be her close companion and sometimes lover (neither of them could legally marry her under Roman law). Cleopatra bore these men children, potential heirs to the vast riches of the most powerful empire in the world at that time. As the author points out, she also ushered in a new era that changed and more often than not improved endless aspects of the rest of the world over the subsequent centuries. We cannot truly understand Cleopatra's motives or actual feelings in many instances, but Ms. Schiff has shifted through all of the most reliable if any of them are truly reliable) authoritative works on the life and times of this most illustrious and fascinating ruler in order to present us with a far more realistic, logical and understandable (not to mention enjoyable) picture than has previously seen print. I wildly applaud her for this wonderful, highly successful and important effort.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2011
I love biography and this is a good one. The descriptions of Alexandria and daily life in this time period are more compelling than the descriptions of Cleopatra herself in some ways, just because are very few records about her. I thought the second half of the book more compelling than the first...still find myself unsure of the balance between wisdom, shrewdness, love, guile, etc with Cleopatra and Mark Antony. I guess we'll never really know but the author does a good job helping us understand the motives behind some of the historical writings that do survive.

Recommended, but I hated reading this on kindle. The maps are hard to decipher and I'm not sure if there are any illustrations at all -- I can't see them, though there's a guide to illustrations at the end, so I think I've missed something important.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
135 of 171 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Cleopatra: A Life
Stacy Schiff

Author Stacy Schiff is a Pulitzer Prize winner and in another case was a Pulitzer finalist. She also won the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American studies, the Gilbert Chiard Prize of the Institute Francais d' Amérique and three NYT Notable Books, The LA Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, and Economist books of the year. She received Fellowships from: the Guggenheim Foundation and National Endowment for the Humanities, a Director's Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers and much, much more.

The copy I received from Amazon for review was a typical advanced, uncorrected, proof, Review copy, which is usually a paperback format. Except that in this case the care given to the paperback cover, complete with a florid display of color in a four folded front and back cover, may be a clue to the coming of a hard cover of opulence. This sort of Review copy is more rare than most and it hints at the possibility of a forthcoming major film on Cleopatra.

As for the content; ah the content... magnifique! One hundred, ten thousand words of unbridled perfection. Stacy Schiff's language is as effusive in was the Queen, which she adorns with deep research - research that blows the cover off more than two thousand years of intentional slanderous inaccuracies. Some by men who hated her, who were, I believe, because of their fear of women of Power, beauty, sexual excellence, confidence and intellect.

In line after line, paragraph after paragraph, the writing, vocabulary, color and tone of the book is perfection. Words flow into sentences four to ten lines long, and in a few cases paragraphs often cover most of a page, ala Henry James, (Turn of The Screw, etc.) and if you are used to reading the classics in any language, you don't mind it a bit, and some may welcome it.

Schiff expands her sentences sometimes into nearly page long paragraphs, with serial descriptions of sumptuously, voluptuous parades, banquets and artifacts. She seduces you into falling head over heels in love, and or lust with the girl queen, whose intellect, competence, strategic and tactical planning are equal to if not superior to that of entire enemy nations.

Cleopatra, a Greek woman, who spoke at least eight languages, played most games as well as or better than her male companions, who were often in awe of her. She who could and did easily charm men with even half an effort, even those who resented, hated and were envious of her (and there were many) made Alexandria the art, cultural and commercial center of the world. Her net worth before her death was valued at roughly $95.7 Billion American dollars, the richest woman in the world, or ever, and among the richest humans (men or women) of all time.

Her nation became a storied and mythical land in which women excelled in many fields and in comparison to Rome, it was a paradise of perfection. In that and the production of art, decorative items, jewels and ship building was unique, her output of grain was stupendous, as were the creation of exotic clothing, jewelry, and brightly colored clothing were unmatched in all of antiquity. It was a storied land of Amazon females which were also exquisitely feminine. In her case more so. And yet by most evidence and descriptions, though she was not not drop-dead gorgeous, she, by velvety soft, articulate and eloquent voice, and quick wit, quick response, with a satiric sense of humor and the ability to tease, roast, attracted men with her vibrantly vivacious force of personality and her amazingly classical education, which was often superior to that of her enemies. The fabled Library of Alexandria's, mythical contents, grew to 500,000 volumes in fantasy, though most present day estimates say it was closer to 100,000 to 250,000 scrolls.

Few males could withstand or compete her charm wit and repartee'. These are good reasons why two of the most powerful men on earth fell deeply in comradeship and love/lust with her. Two men who threw away a kingdom and three quarters of the world, just to be with her, whenever possible. Yet, through all of this, she was not, "the whore queen."

Caesar and Mark Antony were the Charley Sheen's of their era, bedding down more women than Hefner, many of which were married to senators and other political and business types. The truth is that despite the slanders of Cicero, Octavian, her rival brothers and sister, Dolabella, Delius, half the women of Rome, and historians of her day, later and long after her death, critics, including Lucan, were intimidated by her quantum excellence. For centuries afterwords many others used the errors and intentionally false mind-reading of motives onto the circumstances surrounding a woman whose very existence caused them to shrivel in fear of castigation, or swell in lust, despite their fear.

With sumptuous language, the author lays out the truth beneath the rumors and libels. Schiff uncovers, with exhaustive research, the details as far as they can be deduced without eye-witnesses. She tabulates the incredible odds against Cleopatra even surviving her early teens when she was constantly avoiding assassination at the hands of siblings, adults, traitors, greedy and murderous others all around her. She became, of necessity, a skilled and fearless killer in an atmosphere in which at any turn, or step she could be herself murdered. It was an era where one either learns to kill or is killed. Yet she became a teen aged queen of incredible skills and outlived most of her enemies, and if Mark Antony had acted promptly, she and he would have outlived Octavian and reigned until old age, as co-queen of three-quarters of the world, perhaps including Rome as well.

The truth concerning her denigrating title (The Whore Queen), by men whose masculinity was threatened by such female of great competence, is easy to unravel. In their case it was the ebony pot calling the kettle black. Most of her male enemies slept with every senator's wife of beauty or wealth, in Rome. Fear and envy was the motivation of the vast majority of those who slandered her. More importantly, was that there is not a shred of evidence of her sleeping with anyone other than Caesar and Mark Antony. Was she a master of poisons? Was she a killer? Was she seductive? Was she manipulative? Yes to the first three, possibly to the fourth, but she lived in a world far different from ours. A world of murder, especially of females in line for Queenship. Was she guilty of incest? No, there was no such crime in her world, nor did she consummate her marriage to her brothers.

The Mark Antony of the movies and semi-fictional books, was not the Mark Antony of Cleopatra's world. He appeared erratically shifting between competent and ineffective after the death of his mentor Caesar. He failed to eliminate his physically weak chief rival, who was obviously out to destroy him. He seemed to want Rome, Egypt and his position to go away. It appears that the stress of a life of violence, war, intrigue, pressure rendered him inept. He seemed to just want to move away to a secret island where love and peace would follow him all the days of his life. He became a fish out of water, and allowed a physical weakling to destroy him. Was it Karma? Was he drained and tired of warring? Was he wasted by love and trapped in a world of violence, a soldier who appeared at one time fearless, who later when tied to Cleopatra became a crumbling and barely sane ex-warrior? Reading between the Schiff lines, I say yes, to all of that.

Of all of the historical biographies, I have read in my life this ranks it the top five-ten. If you read only one such book this year, I urge you to make Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff, the one.
1818 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2011
Our book club is reading this based on all the hype (and the cover which is wonderful). After almost forcing myself through the first half of the book, I was rewarded during the second half. Truly this was an amazing woman who was living in amazing times. And, this just proves that people don't really change. The politics, greed, power, lust, love, and jealousy of the powerful affected the masses and forged history. Have times really changed?

The book reads at times like a college textbook, but at other times more like an interesting news article. Thankfully, the references are at the end and the footnotes are appropriate, only providing a bit of background information. However, the book could certainly have been enhanced by a few maps, a biographical listing of the many historical figures and a more thorough index. For example, Cleopatra's father is Ptolemy VII, but after first introducing him (confusing again because lots of Ptolemy's), he is referred to as Auletes. But later he might again be referred to as Ptolemy. If you have many breaks in the reading, total confusion. And, "Auletes" is not listed in the index as such but under Ptolemy. This could be chalked up as sloppy reading on my part, but remember it is hyped to "read as a novel." Places and names simply need more information.

In short, this is definitely an act of scholarship that is presented in an interesting manner. Cleopatra was a complicated woman so the book is complicated as well.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
142 of 182 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2010
I love a good bio as much as anyone and after reading the glowing encomiums about this book, I picked up a copy. My bad. Slogging through this bio is like a 300-mile trek through wet sand. Page after page after page of essentially nothing. We learn a lot about the history of the Ptolemies, first century Alexandria, but next to nothing about the woman whose life this book purports to be about.

Another problem for this reviewer is Schiff's writing style, which may work for Vanity Fair or a gossip tabloid but falls flat when writing a serious biography. She also sees fit, for some odd reason, to bring up and excoriate Elizabeth Taylor several times for playing Cleopatra in the movie. What this has to do with Cleopatra's life, this reviewer is at a loss to imagine.

One wonders, while reading the book, if Schiff was trying to write a biography, a historical novel, or a Vanity Fair essay, and couldn't make up her mind either way. Taken any way you want, the book is boring and derivative. Even the cover picture threw me off; I kept thinking where had I seen that picture before until it hit me: danged if that pose wasn't a dead ringer for the cover photo of Andrew Morton's recent "unauthorized" biography of Angelina Jolie. Is Schiff trying to give us an intimation of what's to come? Rumor on the street is that Schiff has been paid a bajillion smackers for the film rights to this book to have Jolie playing the title role. If this really is the case (and I'm betting it isn't), a remake of the movie with Jolie playing the title role couldn't help but be an improvement over this book -- unless they have Brad Pitt playing Mark Antony. "Mr. and Mrs. Smith in Alexandria" would be one sequel too many.

Judy Lind
99 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2012
Let me begin by saying I LOVE history, and have read many biographies. I found this book tedious, unfocused, jumpy, overly wordy, and a bore. I kept trying to give it a chance, but after days of wasting vacation "relaxation" time on it, I abandoned it. If the author was trying to make us all fans of Cleopatra, she failed badly. I think anyone who knows anything of history knows that Cleopatra was an extraordinary woman; intelligent, educated, courageous, and much more. She was not simply the consort of two great Roman generals. That being said, the book made me feel as though Cleopatra was nothing but a dry bore. No substance at all. A product of Ptolemaic culture and education. The product of centuries of inbreeding and strict adherence to cultural mores. Not nearly as interesting as we may have thought her. In trying to disprove what ancient writers had to say about Cleopatra, the author essentially makes her a "straw wo-man".
The book tells us there is very little extant written material about Cleopatra from the time when she lived. Then it proceeds to give us hundreds of pages of material about Alexandrian education, farming, celebratory parades, dining, and culture from the centuries before and after. All told in a dry fashion. One would think that a description of streets running with wine and floats of mechanical wonders being paraded through the wine soaked streets would inspire some wonder on the readers part, but I felt none of it. The much maligned catalog of ships in the Iliad was much more stimulating, more visual, and more easily read.
The book jumps from information about the prime characters and actions to descriptions of events that took place well before and after, and the effect is just confusing. The book jacket is lovely. The book is painful to read; I cannot recommend it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2012
I cannot believe that this text actually made it past an editor. The sentences were random. There was no sentence structure. The information was random and difficult to follow. It appeared that the author had an eighth grade level grasp on the project. It was so bad that I felt compelled to make comment. Ancient events were peppered with weird 21 century commentary.
I remain very interested in the subject matter but I really disliked the way that this book presented the information. It was very disappointing.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2011
I have never been moved enough in any direction to a write a review. This was simply a painful book to plow through. I felt like I was back in school and had to do my reading from my text book. I know that it has garnered much praise from the literary world, but I just don't get it. Boring and over annotated.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
54 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2011
This was the most awful book I have read in decades. It was a book club book and not one single member was able to finish it over a 5-6 week time frame. We all gave up! This from a varied group of well-educated women who have always found something positive in all our book choices. The writing was thick and very difficult to follow. I had to reread many sections and still couldn't follow what the author was trying to say. Somehow the author was able to make such an interesting set of characters completely uninteresting. I made it a little more than halfway before I decided it was too torturous to continue trying to finish this book. I have no idea why anyone would give this book a positive review - it was awful.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Customers who viewed this also viewed


Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.