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Cleopatra: A Biography

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Queen of Egypt, scholar, murderer, lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. . . the perfect subject for distinguished historian Grant, who debunks the image of a wayward woman and replaces it with a brilliant linguist and strategist.


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Queen of Egypt, scholar, murderer, lover of Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. . . the perfect subject for distinguished historian Grant, who debunks the image of a wayward woman and replaces it with a brilliant linguist and strategist.

30 review for Cleopatra: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Bren

    I am not "currently reading" this. I read it a long time ago and want to reread. I have read so many books on Cleopatra and this is one of the best. (Though "I Cleopatra" still ranks as my favorite"). I love the vivid descriptions of Egypt. I have read so many books on Cleopatra that after awhile some of them run together. Not this one. It was first published I think, in the seventies and I read it as a kid. I still adore reading about her and this book makes you feel like you are there. Highly re I am not "currently reading" this. I read it a long time ago and want to reread. I have read so many books on Cleopatra and this is one of the best. (Though "I Cleopatra" still ranks as my favorite"). I love the vivid descriptions of Egypt. I have read so many books on Cleopatra that after awhile some of them run together. Not this one. It was first published I think, in the seventies and I read it as a kid. I still adore reading about her and this book makes you feel like you are there. Highly recommended.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Laura Leilani

    Reading this book is like being there. True, it's not a made up novel, it is just facts carefully laid out along with their sources, but you never feel like that is what you are reading. You do not feel lectured to. It feels like you are there, watching and living it. If you've never read a Michael Grant book before, this would probably be a good first choice. His style is, as always, amazing. He takes facts from dozens of sources and distills them all down into something fun to read. He lets yo Reading this book is like being there. True, it's not a made up novel, it is just facts carefully laid out along with their sources, but you never feel like that is what you are reading. You do not feel lectured to. It feels like you are there, watching and living it. If you've never read a Michael Grant book before, this would probably be a good first choice. His style is, as always, amazing. He takes facts from dozens of sources and distills them all down into something fun to read. He lets you know if it's only gossip or propaganda of the times. He explains what the possible motives are. The stories of people who changed history are usually interesting, but if you've ever tried reading the historians of the times, it can be very confusing. How everyone is related is confusing but when so many people have the same name it is way too confusing. But Grant keeps it all straight for you! The Cleopatra of the book, the one we think of as Cleopatra was actually Cleopatra VII. That is a lot of Cleos to keep track of, but Grant makes it easy. This is enjoyable for anyone who likes history or anyone who needs research

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Taylor

    This is an engrossing history about the last of the Pharaohs and the consolidation of power by the Romans. It takes the myth out of her story and attempts to remove the Octavian propaganda from her history. Highly informative, very interesting Michael Grant This is an engrossing history about the last of the Pharaohs and the consolidation of power by the Romans. It takes the myth out of her story and attempts to remove the Octavian propaganda from her history. Highly informative, very interesting Michael Grant

  4. 4 out of 5

    Roxane Lapa

    I became fascinated with Cleopatra after watching the 1993 'Made-For-TV' 2 part movie called "Cleopatra" featuring Leonor Varela, Billy Zane & Timothy Dalton. An Egyptologist recommended I read this book by Michael Grant for it's authenticity and I'm not sorry I took the time. I was amazed to learn that she could speak 7 languages and was the first of her Dynasty to bother to learn how to speak Egyptian. She also authored treatises on makeup, alchemy and agriculture, and was a brilliant tacticia I became fascinated with Cleopatra after watching the 1993 'Made-For-TV' 2 part movie called "Cleopatra" featuring Leonor Varela, Billy Zane & Timothy Dalton. An Egyptologist recommended I read this book by Michael Grant for it's authenticity and I'm not sorry I took the time. I was amazed to learn that she could speak 7 languages and was the first of her Dynasty to bother to learn how to speak Egyptian. She also authored treatises on makeup, alchemy and agriculture, and was a brilliant tactician. She made the average woman seem like a serious under achiever.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I read this biography as a follow-up to the Margaret George book about Cleopatra. What I learned from this book is a lot about the historical milieu that was not included in the George book. I also was able to sort of figure out which parts of the George book were actually based on historically known facts and which were made up out of her imagination to plump out the story. This biography was not nearly as entertaining or engrossing as the memoir, but it was good, and I enjoyed it.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    mp3 This is my second Cleopatra read this year, the other was Cleopatra Last Queen of Egypt. Already I can tell that Grant's is probably what is termed 'scholarly' and Tyldesley's offering is a lighter touch. You pays yer money and makes yer choice. mp3 This is my second Cleopatra read this year, the other was Cleopatra Last Queen of Egypt. Already I can tell that Grant's is probably what is termed 'scholarly' and Tyldesley's offering is a lighter touch. You pays yer money and makes yer choice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Michael Grant has published scores of books about ancient Greek and Roman history and personalities, some of them, such as his biography of Herod the Great and this one about Cleopatra, based on only a few sources which Grant digests and regurgitates in accessible modern English.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brynn

    Great biography. Both more scholarly and more entertaining than the recent schiff bio. Grant clearly knows his stuff and half the fun is learning how scholars interpret the often highly biased source material.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Much better than the newer bio by Stacey Schiff!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aneeta Xavier

    While reading the book, I was waiting to finally get to what Cleopatra was feeling, what her personality was like, anything! Instead, the POV on her is from the Roman side, Antony's side, Herod's side, Caesar's side, etc... It was only after I finished reading the book did it mention in the bibliography that there were very few primary sources, and most of the historical information relayed was written years after her death by people who were not there, and surely from Roman bias. It could have While reading the book, I was waiting to finally get to what Cleopatra was feeling, what her personality was like, anything! Instead, the POV on her is from the Roman side, Antony's side, Herod's side, Caesar's side, etc... It was only after I finished reading the book did it mention in the bibliography that there were very few primary sources, and most of the historical information relayed was written years after her death by people who were not there, and surely from Roman bias. It could have been said before I read all 348 pages... While the author took care to mention Roman biases throughout the text, I never got the sense of who Cleopatra was and what she felt about these, outside of her distributing counter-propaganda. While I initially could not stand her - she kills all of her siblings and comes across as a power-monger, driven by jealousy and the need to conquer, as well as blatant antisemitism - Octavian comes up as a villain and I then felt bad for her. The amount of propaganda that was levied at her a are reminiscent of rumors spread about strong females today: sleeping around, doing anything for power, etc... The historical part of the book was excellent. I knew very little of the Ptolemy nor of the East/West divide that Antony and Cleopatra were trying to mediate, nor of Marc Antony's character. I was thoroughly entertained and also informed, thus the 4 stars.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jodi

    The edition this reviewer read, was the Barnes & Noble 1995 issue of the 1972 classic. Although a product of his times, Grant offers a biography focused on Cleopatra besides the men in her life. Obviously, when you a the loser in history, there is less written as more focus is on the 'winners' and what they allow to be relayed about their antagonists. Grant debunks many of the myths around Cleopatra and allows for her remarkable personality and abilities to shine through. How remarkable is it th The edition this reviewer read, was the Barnes & Noble 1995 issue of the 1972 classic. Although a product of his times, Grant offers a biography focused on Cleopatra besides the men in her life. Obviously, when you a the loser in history, there is less written as more focus is on the 'winners' and what they allow to be relayed about their antagonists. Grant debunks many of the myths around Cleopatra and allows for her remarkable personality and abilities to shine through. How remarkable is it that a woman without an ounce of Egyptian blood, becomes one of the most famous rulers of that empire?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    A solid history of the time period and geographical area in which Cleopatra reigned. I say history because I do not really feel this was a focused biography, as the book contained just as much information about Caesar or Antony as it did Cleopatra. Nevertheless, it was an enlightening read, and the author made a conscious effort to peer past the veil of propaganda resulting from Octavian's victory. A little frustrating that there is still so much that we can't possibly know for certain, as the c A solid history of the time period and geographical area in which Cleopatra reigned. I say history because I do not really feel this was a focused biography, as the book contained just as much information about Caesar or Antony as it did Cleopatra. Nevertheless, it was an enlightening read, and the author made a conscious effort to peer past the veil of propaganda resulting from Octavian's victory. A little frustrating that there is still so much that we can't possibly know for certain, as the conquerors always shape their own version of history to satisfy their ends.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Diane Moore

    Yes. Michael Grant gets it so right. Cleopatra was a woman extraordinaire! Grant's Cleopatra portrays the wonderful, vibrant woman that she was. And, I was blessed to see her mummy at the British National Museum a few years back.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John

    An excellent biography scholarly, readable, informative, thought provoking and very enjoyable.

  15. 4 out of 5

    ♀ ☾ ✧ the dragon queen ✧ ☾ ♀

    4.5, basically a 5, but it's Dense

  16. 5 out of 5

    Olishka

    This incredible, informative, enduring work is considered the definitive book and scholarship on Cleopatra VII, the gold standard biography for those that came after. Originally published in 1972 (and later updated in the 1990s), this book was the first modern biography of Cleopatra by the acclaimed classicist, numismatist and academic historian Michael Grant. Grant has a way of storytelling without inserting unnecessary frivolous commentary like popular history books. He has an excellent eye for This incredible, informative, enduring work is considered the definitive book and scholarship on Cleopatra VII, the gold standard biography for those that came after. Originally published in 1972 (and later updated in the 1990s), this book was the first modern biography of Cleopatra by the acclaimed classicist, numismatist and academic historian Michael Grant. Grant has a way of storytelling without inserting unnecessary frivolous commentary like popular history books. He has an excellent eye for contextualization of the true queen of Egypt with a sole reliance on ancient sources. His scholarship dismisses several misconceptions of the queen that pervaded her long afterlife in popular culture of the last five hundred years, such as being Egyptian, and her alleged promiscuity: "On the other hand, the princesses of the house of the Ptolemies had always apparently been very much averse to taking casual lovers, especially from outside the royal house…. They were murderous and chaste. The same pride in their families which caused these royal Ptolemaic women to enter into brother-and-sister marriages deterred them from promiscuous associations. Cleopatra’s relationship with Caesar was adulterous in a purely technical sense, since she had gone through marriage ceremonies with her juvenile half-brothers. But her extra-marital associations seem to have been very far from casual, since, as far as we know, there were only two men in her life, Caesar and Antony." “Though queen of Egypt, she possessed not a drop of Egyptian blood in her veins. The last ruler of the dynasty of the Ptolemies, she was of wholly Greek upbringing, and to a very considerable extent of Greek race. She was consumed with perpetual ambition to revive the former glories of her Greek kingdom and house… Cleopatra VII would have described herself as Greek. Whatever the racial ingredients of her Macedonian ancestors, her language, like theirs (though they had spoken a dialect), was Greek, and so was her whole education and culture.” Grant, instead of studying Cleopatra through the lens of the late 20th century, puts Cleopatra in the specific context of her times. Putting to rest the gossip and propaganda, the veil of mystery around the true Queen is lifted to reveal a powerful, persistent woman that was a medical author and scholar, skilled naval commander, talented diplomat, and brilliant propagandist in addition to being the last Hellenistic queen of the Ptolemaic Empire. While ultimately a Macedonian Greek woman that was a "Hellenistic despot ruler" and "a loser in a closely matched struggle for power" (as written by Mary Lefkowitz in her informative "Not Out of Africa"), Cleopatra was able to wield relative popularity with the people over whom she ruled, that genuinely cared for her Greek empire and worked to return it to its former glories lost to time and war. Grant skillfully pulls together primary sources to construct a clear as possible portrait of the most famous queen in history while weeding through all the lies spouted by her detractors, principally Augustus. Grant also interestingly notes, that the attacks on Cleopatra were meant to make Mark Antony look bad, but were not necessarily meant to be a direct attack on her person. And yet this anti-Antony propaganda morphed into an everlasting "incidental" propaganda that targeted Cleopatra through millennia. Cleopatra was incredibly ambitious, but this did not encompass being a seductress but rather a charming, politically astute, highly educated queen that did all her best for her country. At once eye opening and refreshing, scholarly and accurate, readable and fascinating, Grant gives to us what is probably the best work on Cleopatra to date. Highly recommended for both history students and any reader interested in getting a beautiful, ground breaking, erudite biography of the last Hellenistic queen of Egypt.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dreams At Dusk

    Solid, coherent biography of Cleopatra.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Stewart

    Not overly long... about 250 pages of narrative. I don't read all the pages of the bibliography and references - no point if you're reading for pleasure and not scholarship. Very breezy read... not stale at all. Really gave me a good understanding of the trials and tribulations and triumphs, not just the tragedy of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. What a triumvirate they were! This biography also points out that the evidence (as of publication in 1972, anyway) shows that Cleopatra may no Not overly long... about 250 pages of narrative. I don't read all the pages of the bibliography and references - no point if you're reading for pleasure and not scholarship. Very breezy read... not stale at all. Really gave me a good understanding of the trials and tribulations and triumphs, not just the tragedy of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. What a triumvirate they were! This biography also points out that the evidence (as of publication in 1972, anyway) shows that Cleopatra may not have been promiscuous as common anecdotal history suggests, but monogamous with her two lovers. They may have been the only ones. She was also super intelligent and fluent in many languages. Also a good economist and political strategist.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I know little to nothing about Cleopatra and had nothing to compare it to. That said, the myth/legend is more interesting than the truth offered in this book. The book has a lot of information and tries to present an unbiased history and it came off a little dry and boring. I guess that's what happens when you don't embellish, or have a lot of 2000 year old illustrative details to work with. This book did give me a better understanding of the history of power in that part of the world. P.S. This I know little to nothing about Cleopatra and had nothing to compare it to. That said, the myth/legend is more interesting than the truth offered in this book. The book has a lot of information and tries to present an unbiased history and it came off a little dry and boring. I guess that's what happens when you don't embellish, or have a lot of 2000 year old illustrative details to work with. This book did give me a better understanding of the history of power in that part of the world. P.S. This author loves the words "ironical" and "impracticable"; fair warning.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Russell Hall

    A splendid Biography. Grant is highly detailed in his research and description of what is known. With any subject of biography who has been dead for over two millennia it is difficult to be so precise. Grant also takes a world view of East verses West which seems more akin to the post 9/11 world than the ancient one. It serves to show how history is not just stories, but relationships among individuals and peoples throughout the world and time.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shannan

    Sadly, this book has sat on my bookshelf for years, until I used it as source material for a last minute Western Civ paper. Not only was I able to quickly read through the book to find detailed information and facts for my paper but I also enjoyed reading the book. This book is well written and accurately details the life of Cleopatra.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    For someone who was married to Julius Caesar AND Marc Antony I'd have to say that Cleopatra was one amazing woman! Yet I wish this book could've been condensed to 10% of its length. It was way more involved in the history than I had interest. For people who love this kind of thing I'm sure it's fascinating. But I just found my mind wandering and getting bored on and off throughout the read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    I read this when I was rather young and...and most of it went over my head. I think I read because an older friend was...but through this book began my love for biography, history, and social issues. Actually, it was Cleopatra's intriguing life that opened up the adventure of history for me.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Reily

    This was an interesting book, but it confirmed that I am interested more in history after the twelfth century. Ancient history just doesn't grab my attention as much. I did find this biography interesting, and I learned a lot of new things about the period.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ann Tonks

    Whether I just don't have the capacity to read such a densely written biography or whether it is simply too complex too early I don't know. But for which ever reason, I just couldn 't plough my way through it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kecia

    A bit too academic to be a good read. I liked it to the degree that it sorted out the myth of Cleopatra from the few facts that are known about her.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Excellent biography. Well researched.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    It was entertaining to read something about Cleopatra and her triumphant skills as a leader of the Egyptian people. It was also a light weight romance too. Easy summer read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    H

    Grant divulges the life of Cleopatra and paints her story with a complete background.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    A good book but I gt bogged down by the source notes at the back. Evetually I lost interest about 2/3 through. Too bad.

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