Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Book Review : Cleopatra
Author : Stacy Schiff
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is "Cleopatra: A Life".

This is yet another book that I decided to read because the author was interviewed on "The Daily Show". Stacy Schiff has written a few biographical works and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for "Vera".

The idea behind the book is great. Everyone has heard of Cleopatra, but how many know what is fact and what is fiction ? The book's cover conveys its theme well. A portrait without the face. We don't know a whole lot about her.

Naturally, it's hard to arrive at historic truth about someone who lived more than 2 thousand years ago. So author Stacy Schiff has decided to mix meticulous research with intelligent speculation. Based on what we know about the times and places, she suggests what might have happened around the facts that we know for sure. It's a very interesting approach that I personally liked.

Still, the book lost me. Stacy Schiff is really a very good writer. Her style never gets dull. But the book is too big, too detailed and eventually got tedious. If you are seriously interested in history, this may be a great book. If you just want to know more about who Cleopatra was as a real person and unlearn what Hollywood has taught you, then this book gets overwhelming. I learned a lot about Cleopatra, and even how life was in Egypt. Some of the insights were surprising, and I am happy to know them now. Nevertheless, I think the length could have been reduced to half, and I would have still gotten all that knowledge.

The strength of the book - the amount of detail - was precisely what turned me off, and I started skipping sections to get to the finish. I really wanted to like this book. Sadly, I cannot recommend it, unless of course you are studying Egyptian History, in which case, I have no authority to make any recommendations to you anyway !

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