Author: Stacy Schiff
Published: Little, Brown and Company, November, 2010
Why I Read It: I love pretty covers.
The number one thing that I learned from Cleopatra: A Life was this: I had deceived myself in thinking I knew anything about her before reading this book. Stacy Schiff digs deep into the life of one of the most well-known yet misunderstood women in history. Most of us know her as the Egyptian queen who had affairs/children with both Caesar and Mark Antony, the two most powerful men of their age. She herself was much, much more than that.
Cleopatra was a fabulously rich woman. In contemporary terms, her net worth would be around $95.8 billion dollars. She was worth more than three Queen Elizabeth IIs. Amazingly, she also lived in a culture were women were greatly empowered. A woman in first century B.C. could choose her own husband, own property, grant their own divorces, operate businesses, and serve as priests. As much as one third of Egypt was controlled by female hands.
There are many other things that stick out to me about Cleopatra's life. The biggest was her incestuous family ties. Her grandparents were uncle and niece, her parents were brother and sister, and Cleopatra herself was married to both of her brothers. I question how there were no physical or mental deformations! Another interesting point pertains to her beauty. Third century A.D. records call her "strikingly exquisite" in appearance, while those of the Middle Ages say she was "famous for nothing but her beauty." Shakespeare raves about her looks. However, her contemporaries, those who actually knew and saw her, say nothing about her beauty. In fact, her appearance was called "not remarkable." Quite different from what most of us have heard about her!
Stacy Schiff wrote an extremely entertaining book full of fun, interesting facts. I loved her sarcastic voice and the humor she injected into the characters. I will say that it seems to drag on forever at the end. The story began to focus too much on Mark Antony and the military, which quickly lost my interest. I skimmed the last 100 pages. That being said, I'd rate it 3.5 stars; the plethora of amazing facts was overshadowed by the fact that I felt I had to force myself to even finish it.
This book hasn't even been published, yet it is already the basis for a movie to be released in 2013, starring Angelina Jolie. You can read more about it here.