On the Shelf Book Review: ‘Cleopatra: A Life’, by Stacy Schiff

cleopatraOn the Shelf Book Review
By Amanda Bridle, Grand Rapids Public Library, Main

Fact is better than fiction.

Fictional portrayals of Cleopatra write her off as a mere seductress, not worth much more than her looks. In truth, Cleopatra wasn’t all that good-looking (we can tell from the portraits on coins she herself approved and from the snide comments made by her published detractors) but instead attracted the men in her life, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, with her brains. Author Stacy Schiff, reveals a portrait of a daring, complex and politically savvy woman in her new biography Cleopatra: A Life.

The well-researched book plunges us into another time and place with lush descriptions of lavish royal events and in-depth discussion of the culture and politics that shaped Cleopatra’s life. To understand her is to understand the how her Greek family came to power in Egypt and how they fought, intermarried and murdered amongst themselves.

To know her is to know the status of women in Alexandria and how shockingly different that was from Rome. To appreciate her life and her choices is to understand the power struggles and politics of Roman leaders as they attempted to gain control of more and more of the world and function, or dysfunction, as a democracy.

Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, readers will enjoy a book that is equal parts history, politics, romance, and tragedy.