cover image Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt

Joyce Tyldesley, . . Basic, $27.50 (290pp) ISBN 978-0-465-00940-4

This entertaining biography hits the elusive sweet spot between scholarship and readability. British archeologist Tyldesley (Daughters of Isis ) is charmingly transparent about the unreliability of her sources. She tells us that when the Roman poet Lucan describes Cleopatra’s “ineffable night of shame” with Julius Caesar, he is “writing the equivalent of modern tabloid journalism.” In spite of the lack of eyewitness descriptions of Cleopatra, the question, for instance, of what she looked like becomes a fast-moving amusing discussion of statuary as royal propaganda, the modern perception of Cleopatra’s nose as way too big and the difference between beauty and sexiness. Writing with an easy mastery of her subject, Tyldesley always seems to be able to lay her hands on the perfect lively detail, whether an excerpt from an obscure bureaucratic document or a description of a kind of giant robot that paraded through the streets of Alexandria pouring libations of milk from a gold bottle. Though she makes it clear we’ll never know what Cleopatra was “really” like, Tyldesley provides a memorable journey through the rich and contradictory sources of our knowledge about her. 8 pages of illus., 3 maps. (Sept.)