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on 13 February 2008
Joyce Tyldesley's 'Cleopatra' is a remarkable book; highly readable, clever and humorous, the biography offers a wealth of information and detail on Cleopatra and her world.

The book is structured in a reassuringly chronological manner. Tyldesley begins with Cleopatra's turbulent accession to the throne, moves through her careful negotiation of famine, drought and opposition, and ends with her death and legacy. Her much-discussed liaisons with Caesar, Pompey and Marc Antony also merit significant attention.

Throughout the course of the biography, Tyldesley sustains the interest by examining all the most famous myths about Cleopatra, and then systematically authenticating or debunking them. We discover how far we can trust the accounts of Cleopatra rolling herself theatrically from carpets, or dissolving priceless pearls in wine. We find out how likely it was that the queen was actually hook-nosed and prominent-chinned, and that far from being careless and flippant, she was shrewd and politically astute.

The most fascinating part of the story for me, having studied Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, was the chapter that dealt with their famous relationship. Anyone who knows the play at all would find the explanation of Antony's scandalous past, for example, extremely enlightening. It is also interesting to see how far Shakespeare adapted and manipulated the legend for the stage. I would therefore recommend this book to anyone studying Shakespeare's play - or any play about Cleopatra, for that matter - as an excellent study companion.

Really, though, this biography might appeal to anyone, simply because Cleopatra is such an intriguing and mysterious figure in history. In spite of its somewhat scholarly tone in places, one does not have to be an egyptologist to find 'Cleopatra' interesting and surprising.
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on 4 August 2014
There can be few who do not know the story of Cleopatra – recorded by classical scholars, re-told by Shakespeare and interpreted by film makers.

But what do we really know about Cleopatra, the last Queen in a dynasty of Macedonian rulers of Egypt? Her ancestor, Ptolemy I, seized control of Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. Because of this, many Egyptologists see Cleopatra as not really ‘Egyptian’ and studies of her have been mainly undertaken by Graeco- Roman scholars using the ‘evidence’ of Roman reports, probably biased and written after her death.

This new biography of Cleopatra is one of the few written by an Egyptologist. As perhaps the Ptolemies did themselves, she sees Cleopatra and her predecessors as a valid Egyptian Dynasty, the direct heirs and descendants of the culture of ancient Egypt.

The emergence of Rome as a power, and internal disputes there, are why Egypt was seen as a potential ally and a source of wealth. This why and how Julius Caesar and then Mark Antony were to meet Cleopatra.

The author shows how Cleopatra was a well educated and able ruler and a devoted mother. Like her predecessors, she worshipped the ancient Egyptian gods and was seen by many as the personification of the goddess Isis, mother and protector of the future pharaoh (her son by Julius Caesar, Caesarion). Her ambition matched that of Caesar and Antony and whilst Rome may have been using Egypt, then Egypt certainly used Rome.

The story of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, and particularly its end, is complex and bloody and the author does an excellent job in presenting this fascinating tale (which is often better than fiction) in a clear and understandable way. It is a story that will endure and be told many times, but in this biography one can see an Egyptian Queen struggling against internal problems and external pressures and almost succeeding in securing her throne and dynasty.

Unusually, perhaps, for a work of non-fiction, this book was chosen by BBC Radio 4 as a ‘Book of the Week’ in January; abridged extracts were read, although these concentrated on the story, rather than the archaeology, which is an important part of the book.

Reviewed by ancientegyptmagazine dot com
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on 12 July 2010
I usually steer away from historical biographys - often they are dry as dust, fairly inaccessible and frankly, boring. This was different. Not only is it written in a lively and engaging way which talks to you, it also yields so much more than a story of one of the worlds greatest queens. I know the story of Cleopatra very well but i loved the fact that this book taught me more. It does speed up as we near the end and the battle of Antioch seemed a little 'skipped over.' But thats is a minor complaint, the book is pitched exactly right. I found the use 'our cleopatra' to distinguish between others being talked particularly inclusive...and friendly. This book will teach you a lot, its easy to read (without being at all patronising) and most of all, it really is interesting. This lady might have just changed my perception of the historical biography. For those of you that want a cracking read about cleopatra, follow the link with this reviewThe Memoirs of Cleopatra
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on 19 December 2010
First of all, I would say that overall I enjoyed the book. This is the first biography of Cleopatra I have read and my knowledge of her is limited to her relationships with Caesar, Mark Antony and her legendary acts such as suicide by an asp bite, dissolving pearls in wine or wrapping herself up in carpet to seduce Caesar.

Joyce Tyldesley does much in this book to verify, or debunk, many of the above. Tydesley does show that Cleopatra was much more than the legendary beautiful queen, using her feminine charms to seduce Caesar and Mark Antony in turn. She emerges as an astute politician, sometimes ruthless and ambitious too. She is also seen as a caring mother, a competent queen who acts both as a traditional Egyptian and Hellenistic ruler (she had to given the multi-ethnic make-up of Ptolemaic Egypt). As such she used both Egyptian culture, iconography, coinage and art to portray herself as Egypt's lawful 'Pharaoh', as well as demonstrating herself in Hellenistic dress and poses to appeal to her Greek subjects. Above all, I think Tyldesley has shown Cleopatra to be a survivor, until overtaken my the more resourceful Octavian.

However, as I said in my title, I think the book is a bit light-weight. This concerns the personal side of Cleopatra. I do not feel as though I have learnt much about Cleopatra the woman, her likes, dislikes, her traits etc. A lot of the book is taken up with discussions on matters that do not have any direct link to Cleopatra. Some sections have an indirect, or tenuous, link to her, but i think about 35-40% of the book is not really relevant to a Cleopatra biography, and gives an impression of padding out the book.

Overall, this was ok.
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on 7 March 2013
Very good read, I recommend it for people who have an interest in the period and subject. The author certainly knows her subject.
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on 4 November 2014
...very good read actually!
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on 29 January 2015
Great love it
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on 10 March 2016
I didn't enjoy this book, it is very slow to get into and when you give it a chance it is still slow. There is more detail about Alexandria and Mark Anthony than Cleopatra. It is really a description of the era when Cleopatra was alive, but I wouldn't say that this book is about her specifically.
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on 14 February 2013
i have always wanted to visit egypt and i did a project on cleopatra for my creative writing course. i did manage to visit egypt fifteen months ago.it was awesome. cleopatra was a hell of a woman,even misunderstood by many.there were several sides to her persona!
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on 2 January 2013
I haven't read this book yet, but I have read books by this author before and she has a lovely way of writing and brings these ancient people to life. So even though I have not read this book - it will be great and on previous experience would recommend.
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