Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography in 2011. Schiff combed ancient Greek and Roman sources, which she often found contradictory, biased, or rather imaginative, in order to learn about the celebrated queen and separate myth from reality.
Cleopatra is presented as an intelligent, well-educated, courageous, and wise ruler during uncertain times of Egyptian and Roman civil wars. The queen turned to Caesar and Mark Antony for protection from enemies, both domestic and foreign, as a way to preserve the fading power of Egypt from the growing power of Rome.
Schiff's writing style is clear and witty with wry ancient and modern comparisons. She evokes the splendor of Alexandria, a center of culture, learning, and luxury compared to Rome of that time. Indeed, Roman scorn for Cleopatra for being an ambitious and accomplished female has contemporary echoes.
Readers of the history of Ptolemaic Egypt and the Roman empire can learn a lot from this book. Readers of women's history will get a new appreciation of a much maligned ruler. I found the book interesting and informative, and I appreciated the author's humor and critiques of the writing of ancient historians about Cleopatra. The queen was far from the sexy seductress of much historical writing and the movies. The biographer gives Cleopatra her due and places her in the complicated historical context. Read this book