Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The (much deserved) accolades for this book neglect one major thing: this is more than informative, it's funny. Example? "After a while the butchery came to seem almost preordained. Cleopatra's uncle murdered his wife, thereby eliminating his step-mother (and half sister) as well. ... She was not even Cleopatra VII, as she would be remembered. Given the tortured family history, it made sense that someone, somewhere, simply lost count."
Cleopatra's family's antics - betrayal, deposing, murder and intermarrying - left her with some interesting baggage. Her goal, at first, was simple survival; thanks to Julius Caesar that goal became reality. This led to a relatively peaceful reign filled with pageantry, prosperity and the type of riches we associate with ancient kingdoms. Had she not thrown in her lot with Antony, who knows how long the Ptolmeic dynasty would have endured.
Like most readers, my knowledge of Cleopatra has been informed by Roman history, Shakespeare and the movie with Elizabeth Taylor. It's due to Octavian that our knowledge of her role is so skewed (the fifth century earthquake that destroyed much of Alexandria didn't help, either). Pity, because she's such a fascinating person.