Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Ah Cleopatra, the world’s most famous harlot. I’ve always wanted to know more about her and so when this book recommendation came from a literary podcast I listen to, I snapped it up. One of the biggest issues surrounding Cleopatra is that her history was rewritten by men to reflect a how they felt she should be portrayed.
The author lets you know as much in the forward. She lays out a quick history of how it happened and explains that much of what we ought to know about the monarch is lost. She then takes an exceptionally long time to tell you what we do know. To her credit, the author lays out the lifetime of Cleopatra in intricate detail. She traces her lineage and discusses the politics of the time. She covers Cesar and Antony, Octavian and Herod. Cleopatra’s life spanned continents and regime changes. Throughout everything you get the impression that Cleopatra was a woman in control up until the end. The majority of the book is spent digging into the politics of ancient Rome where Cleopatra ends up being an ancillary character.
It’s hard to review a book like this. Unlike some of the other reviewers, I did not find this book to be passionate or sizzling with energy. It took me a lot longer to read than most because I kept finding other things I wanted to read more. There are nearly one hundred pages of sources listed in the back and you can definitely tell due to the level of detail in the narrative.
As a history book this is magnificent. As a brain candy/beach book? You’re out of luck. Unless history books are your beach books that is. The way it was originally described was in a way that made me think it would be an easy and quick read. It’s density and details make it a labor of love. Not just for the author but for you as well.
Put another way, anyone looking for an Erik Larsson type narrative will be a bit disappointed.
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