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Publishers Weekly Reviews

"Cleopatra stood at one of the most dangerous intersections of history: that of women and power," writes Schiff in this excellent, myth-busting biography. It is that intersection that interests Schiff rather than romance. Cleopatra was no great beauty, we learn/ But the Egyptian queen (69–30 B.C.E.)—who was actually a Greek Ptolemy—was charismatic, intelligent, shrewd, and ruthless, concerned less with love than with maintaining her kingdom and Ptolemaic grandeur, threatened by Rome's civil wars. Caesar and Antony were seduced by her most alluring feature—her fabulous wealth, which Rome desperately needed. Schiff, author of the acclaimed A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, faces a dearth of documentation on Cleopatra, as well as unreliable portraits by Plutarch, Dio, and others, forcing her often to speculate about Cleopatra's feelings and motives. But Schiff enters so completely into the time and place, especially the beauty and luxury of the "great metropolis" of Alexandria, Cleopatra's capital, describing it in almost cinematic detail. And though we all know the outcome, Schiff's account of Cleopatra's and Antony's desperate efforts to manipulate their triumphant enemy, Octavian, make for tragic, page-turning reading. No one will think of Cleopatra in quite the same way after reading this vivid, provocative book. (Nov.) Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC

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