Founded in the late 4th century B.C. by its namesake, the conquering Alexander of Macedon, the Egyptian city of Alexandria enjoyed a near-perfect site: "a flat and narrow limestone expanse at the edge of the Nile delta, some thirty miles west of the great river's westernmost branch" that stood before a superb deep-water harbor. The Ptolemaic dynasty that Alexander founded produced, three centuries later, Egypt's last true pharaoh, Cleopatra, who built on the site fabulous structures of marble, granite, precious gems and metals, and glasswork--a palace complex renowned throughout the ancient world. Cleopatra, writes Laura Foreman, was both "a hard-headed pragmatist and at the same time a devout mystic," a stern ruler whose position was constantly challenged by rivals to the throne and the ever-expanding Roman empire alike. Caught on the losing side in a power struggle between the Roman generals Octavian and Antony, Cleopatra committed suicide; with her death came the end of Ptolemaic power.
History did not forget her, but the elements (particularly the rising Mediterranean sea) swallowed up much of the ancient city of Alexandria. In the late 1980s, an international team of archaeologists began to excavate the underwater ruins of ancient Alexandria. Foreman documents their work in this richly illustrated, well-written reconstruction of the ancient past, a book that armchair Egyptologists will find irresistible. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
Launching Discovery Books, a joint venture of Random House and the Discovery Channel, this imaginative biography of Cleopatra is a queer blend of substance and sentimentality. Prompted by deep-sea explorer Franck Goddio's recent discovery of Cleopatra's lost island, Antirhodos, the book chronicles Cleopatra's lifeAfrom her childhood education to her affairs with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony to her eventual suicideAthrough a splashy mix of history, images of artifacts and famous paintings, undersea photography and melodramatic writing. The book's most interesting parts may well be its abundant sidebars and boxes, which provide mini-profiles of Egyptian and Roman rulers, gods and historical events. The last chapter, "Discovery," briefly delineates the gradual erosion of Alexandria's remarkable palaces and enumerates explorers' subsequent attempts to recover the lost riches. The author recounts the work of Goddio's team, its reliance on innovative technology and the significance of its findings, but doesn't capture the heady excitement of the mission. As pleasing as this book will be to those unfamiliar with Cleopatra's story, readers interested in Goddio's groundbreaking work should wait for the TV documentary. (Mar.) FYI: The documentary Cleopatra's Palace will air on the Discovery Channel on March 14.
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