20 reviews

Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff

Published: 2010-11-01
Hardcover : 368 pages
43 members reading this now
73 clubs reading this now
19 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 9 of 20 members
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 ...
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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.

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Discussion Questions

Suggested by Members

Compare the attitudes toward women in power in Egypt to that of Rome. How would that affect Caesar's ideas about women, and Cleopatra, in particular.
by auntieclaws (see profile) 05/14/13

List the pros/cons of Cleopatra and then discuss how that made her the type of leader she was and how it shaped her downfall.
by Azurett (see profile) 02/08/11

Why do you think we regressed so completely on female rights & leadership after Cleopatra's time?
How to you think the judgements regarding Cleopatra are related to women in leadership positons today?
by Barbara23 (see profile) 12/15/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Long, historical and complicated
by auntieclaws (see profile) 05/14/13
While this is an excellent book, do not think it is a scholarly work. It's pop history about a strong, well-educated woman.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Cleo"by auntieclaws (see profile) 05/14/13

I thought Stacy Schiff did a good job placing Cleopatra within the time frame of history, and also within the context of her times. What I thought could have been improved was the linear flow of the book.... (read more)

  "Dull Cleopatra"by Mblankens (see profile) 05/14/13

The writing style was diffuclt to follow and was sleep inducing.

  "History lesson worth learning"by SueIsaac (see profile) 10/17/12

This biography of Cleopatra makes careful use of all the ancient sources -- factoring in their spins -- to arrive at a cohesive view of the iconic ruler. A central theme is the debunking of the image of... (read more)

  "Cleo, a text book"by floydsbo (see profile) 09/04/12

Though the historically accurate portrait of Cleopatra was fascinating to learn. Too often this felt like required coarse work, not a pleasurable read. She was an astounding woman in a time and place where... (read more)

  "Worth the time to read"by mybcjac24 (see profile) 06/23/12

Although I enjoyed the historical knowledge I gained from the book, I'm not sure this would be a good thought provocking, conversational stimulating read for a book club.

  "Cleopatra:A Life"by cpapuga (see profile) 01/11/12

This was a very interesting book, but slow moving and dry. We felt like we were reading a history text book. If your group is into lots of historical detail, this book would be good for you. We enjoyed... (read more)

  "Written like a history book"by sixputmans (see profile) 12/01/11

  "Cleopatra"by msharry (see profile) 10/16/11

I was one of the few in my book club that did not enjoy this book. The others liked the view of Roman life and the glamour of Alexandria. To me, the author tried so hard to tell us what was not known... (read more)

  "Cleopatra"by nokidding1 (see profile) 09/01/11

reads like a history book. if you like reading historical accounts, you will like it

  "Not An Easy Read"by Beth242930 (see profile) 06/02/11

Out of our 10 members no one finished the book. It read like a text book. I got about halfway through and had to give up. There were some interesting facts but it was a lot of work to get to them. I dreaded... (read more)

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