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Publisher's Summary

Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.

Though her life spanned fewer than 40 years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties.

Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and - after his murder - three more with his Antony. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.

Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost.

In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.

©2010 Stacy Schiff (P)2010 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"An epic subject requires a writer of epic skill and scope, and we have a perfect pairing in Cleopatra and Stacy Schiff. Absorbing and illuminating, this new biography will endure." (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion)
"A Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer presents a swift, sympathetic life of one of history's most maligned and legendary women.... Successfully dissipating all the perfume, Schiff finds a remarkably complex woman - brutal and loving, dependent and independent, immensely strong but finally vulnerable." ( Kirkus)
"Captivating...Ms. Schiff strips away the accretions of myth that have built up around the Egyptian queen and plucks off the imaginative embroiderings of Shakespeare, Shaw and Elizabeth Taylor. In doing so, she gives us a cinematic portrait of a historical figure far more complex and compelling than any fictional creation, and a wide, panning, panoramic picture of her world." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Shaun
  • Apollo, PA, United States
  • 04-21-11

A pretty good listen.

For someone who reads a lot of ancient history, and is deeply interested in the Hellenistic era...added to the fact that I was looking for newer material...this was the first audio book I listened to upon creating my account. I enjoyed it...the narration is good, and Schiff does an amazing job with breathing new life into Cleopatra and her era. As for Schiff's narrative, it is excellent, and I don't think many of the inferences she has to make are that over the top. Her great retelling of the Alexandrian War that first brought Caesar to Egypt and Cleopatra to power was a great, fresh take on an event that isn't talked about much in many books despite its importance.

That said, this book might be a bit misleading...I'm not sure I would recommend it to casual readers/listeners. Despite the subject matter that appeals to average readers (many people know a little about this story) and the slick cover that looks like it is meant to draw women readers in.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Joshua
  • ASBURY, NJ, United States
  • 10-16-13

Not "just" a Biography!

This book is no mere biography of Cleopatra's life. The author paints a vivid portrait of the end of the Hellenistic Period. For to understand Cleopatra's life you need to understand the places she went, the people she knew, and the times she inhabited; Cleopatra was as much a product of her times as the times were a product of her life. Stacy Shift interweaves fact with narrative flawlessly and engages the reader with such rich language that at moments I forgot I was reading non-fiction. Robin Miles narration is both relaxing yet filled with passion. This was my second time listening to the book and I will most likely be listening a third time in the near future! It is simply that fabulous!

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Performance
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  • Evans
  • LOGAN, UT, United States
  • 09-20-11

Very captivating.

Where does Cleopatra rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

This is great because it is informative yet novel-like.

What did you like best about this story?

This story is mostly informative. It is mostly a defense for Cleopatra, but it tries to summarize everyone's point of view about her (including negative views). The author is mostly unbiased about Antony, Cleopatra and Caesar. She may be biased against Octavian, but she talks little about him.

What about Robin Miles’s performance did you like?


Was there a moment in the book that particular moved you?

Yes, of course. The Battle of Actium, the tale of Antony fishing and the final moments of Antony and Cleopatra.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Saman
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 02-01-11

Excellent historical perspective.

This is a fascinating story of the ultimate queen of history. The narrative is extraordinary and the story beautifully complex. The facts (or the lack of) that engulfs the period is marvelously put together from ancient texts and supposition. It’s a must listen for those who are interested in history and the strength of our past human achievement.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Very Enjoyable

I found this interpretation of the life of Cleopatra a refreshing take from a different angle. Accurate conclusions based on the existing ancient historical accounts must consider the spin their authors gave the story to suit their own audience. So in all fairness, Schiff's views offer a well reasoned alternate approach. A must-read for those interested in Roman history of the time.

14 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Approach this book with caution

An interesting read (or listen) but hardly an objective view of history. It is apparent from the outset that Schiff is a woman with an ax to grind and will not allow the facts to get in the way. Her overriding theme of every negative thing ever written about Cleopatra being false and every positive thing true is at first only annoying but quickly becomes tedious. She takes to task everyone from ancient historians Plutarch and Dio, to Shakespeare and Shaw for supposition, personal prejudices and outright fiction in their writings about Cleopatra and then merrily does the same for over 300 pages. Worse yet, she happily credits those historians whenever they prop up her slant on the subject and disingenuously discredits them when they do not. In the end this is just another persons take on a subject and time that there is very little actual documented accounts.

54 of 68 people found this review helpful

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  • Ursula
  • Kensington, MD, United States
  • 02-05-11

Interesting subject, painful listen

By the end of the book, I couldn't wait for it to be over. The listening wasn't a pleasant experience.

The narrator's sense of appropriate pauses and emphasis were off and anoying. Part of this was due to an awkward writing style. (Perhaps a better editor and a different narrator would have helped?)

Never-the-less, I kept up with it because the subject was interesting and I did learn a lot about Cleopatra, Julius Ceasar, Mark Antony, and Augustus.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • brodi15
  • Wethersfield, CT, United States
  • 04-05-11


I had high hopes for this, particularly since the reviews were pretty good and there was a lot of hype leading up to its release. Well, I was left very disappointed. The "story" is scattered so it doesn't read like a story. I know it's about Cleopatra's real life so perhaps it's meant to be a little dry by nature, but I still thought it would read like a tale of her life beginning to end - tumultous and exciting. Unfortunately, the author is constantly back and forth on each point between the time period she is actually discussing and the past and future that relate to the point she is discussing (if that makes any sense at all? I don't know how best to explain that, but if that's confusing, just try following along with the audio...). Many times, I thought I was losing it (e.g., Cleopatra's brother was dead, wait he wasn't dead, wait no he is dead, wait he didn't die - yet - she's just saying that he would be dead at some point although she's talking about it as if he is dead...Same issue with her dad and everyone else who passes through Cleopatra's life. Are we in Greece? No of course not, we're in Egypt. Though it really sounds like we're in Greece...). I will say, perhaps it reads better in written format than in audio. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. There are just so many footnotes that it interrupts any potential fluidity that I have to assume exists in the hardcopy. I didn't bother to finish it although I may at some point.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Abdul
  • DURHAM, New Caledonia
  • 02-09-11

Fabulous - Greatly Exceeded Expectatiions

The author's maticulously researched and written work not only well portrayed the events of two thousand years ago but also described the characters thoroughly. The narrator skillfully place emphasis and paced the reading pleasingly. I have recommended this audiobook to my friends enthusiastically.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Save your money or credits, please!

This book is truly horrible. I am an historian and history teacher. I can't believe the author wasted her time on this book. It is one of the worst historical accounts I've ever read. No new discoveries and no real story to tell. It could be this, or it could be that. Endless droning about Egypt in general and possible explanations of Cleopatra's choices. This book is so bad it hurt my

44 of 64 people found this review helpful