My Useless Opinion: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Reason(s) to read: Everyone seems to have an opinion of Cleopatra, but that opinion is often based on myth over reality. Schiff does an adequate job of showing that Cleopatra was more than a woman who used her sexual appeal to seduce both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, two of the most important figures in ancient Rome. The writing is engaging, particularly for a biography, and the history is well researched. Schiff does an excellent job of painting a picture of Alexandria and Rome at the time.
Reason(s) to ignore: If you’re looking for a historically rich, factually based account of Cleopatra’s life, you won’t find it here. You won’t find it anywhere. As Schiff readily admits, there are simply not enough historical records of Cleopatra’s life to provide such an account. The accounts that do exist are provided by Romans who often viewed her as little more than a sexual being with an uncanny ability to seduce. Schiff uses the sources available to make a strong argument that Cleopatra was far more politically astute and intelligent than she is given credit for, but much is still based on conjecture. The case presented for Schiff’s viewpoint is solid, but unless your only knowledge of Cleopatra is Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra, you won’t come away with many definitive answers.
Recommended?: Unfortunately, not really. While Schiff’s theories on what Cleopatra would have been thinking or feeling at a particular time are interesting, they are still theories. Through no fault of her own, Schiff is unable to deliver much more than that.