January 2, 2012

Review: Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff


Release Date: November 2010
Publisher: Hachette | Little, Brown
Pages: 368 pages
Source & Format: Christmas gift; Hardcover
Amazon | Goodreads

Summary (from Goodreads)
Cleopatra's life spanned fewer than 40 years, but her legend lives on. She married twice, each time to a brother. She poisoned one and warred against the other. To this day, much of what we know about Cleopatra is through unreliably sources. This biography is an attempt to tell the true story of the woman behind the myth.

Thoughts on Cleopatra
I was excited to read this book because I love well-written biographies, and I am not very familiar with Cleopatra or the time in which she lived. I had obviously heard some of the varied accounts about her life, and her death, but I was looking forward to getting a more in-depth picture of this legendary woman.

Unfortunately, I just could not finish this book. I expected a lot more from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. The writing was not very engaging. Schiff uses incredibly long paragraphs, which made it very hard for me to follow or to find the significance of what she was writing. I know it's time to put a book aside when I can't follow what is going on and don't even really care. 

It was, to be honest, dry and lifeless. I felt like I was listening to a droning history professor. The book felt more like a lecture than an insightful or engaging look at a powerful woman.

Also, I got kind of tired of all the conjecture. I only made it about 1/4 of the way through the book before I called it quits, but I noticed a trend emerging:
  • Disclaimer: We don't know if [event] happened for sure, but it might have been like this...
  • Description: It is believed that [event] happened in this way...
  • Disclaimer: Again, that is only what might have happened but we can't really know for sure...
While I understand that a biographer cannot claim to know everything as absolute fact, I could not get past the fact that it seemed like the book was merely a hodge-podge of the history of Rome/Alexandria with some random Cleopatra anecdotes thrown in for good measure.

I hate leaving a book unfinished, but I knew it was time to put it to rest when I was resorting to bribing myself to finish the book: "Now, if I just read five more pages tonight then I can stop and read something else." 

I may try and pick it back up when I am feeling a little more patient and have fewer books in my "to read" pile. Maybe...

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