On the evidence of Cleopatra and Antony, I'd say [Preston's] a thoroughgoing pro. Her research is careful and deep; her prose is lively and graceful; her sympathy for her central character is strong but wholly without sentimentality; her depiction of the worlds in which Cleopatra lived is detailed, textured and evocative. If there is a better book about Cleopatra for today's reader, I don't know what it is.
The Washington Post
Going beyond the charisma and romance of two of history's greatest lovers, L.A. TimesBook Prize-winner Preston (Before the Fallow) vividly puts their lives in the larger political context of their times. Preston explodes the legends, saying Cleopatra was less a seductress than a politically shrewd ruler, and Antony was not a hotheaded megalomaniac. Preston chronicles Cleopatra's life from her royal upbringing to her marriage to the new Roman emperor Julius Caesar, motivated, says Preston, by political ambition. After Caesar's murder, according to Preston, Cleopatra was wise to join political and sexual forces with Antony, who won favor in her eyes for rebelling against Octavian. For his part, Antony remained loyal to Cleopatra, viewing her as a partner with whom he could rule the Roman Empire. Although the tales Preston rehearses are familiar ones, she provides a rich context and speculates that if Antony and Cleopatra had defeated Octavian, then Cleopatra might have ruled in Judea more benignly than Herod. Her reception of Jesus of Nazareth might have been very different than Herod's, and history itself might have been altered. 30 b&w illus., one map. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Touting Cleopatra and Anthony as the original celebrity couple, Preston (Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima) weaves their romance into an explanation of the political environment of one of the most important eras of Western history. Indeed, in her extensive research, Preston seeks to unravel the centuries of myth that shroud the infamous couple to reveal who they were in their own time and society. In what became a game of propaganda and politics against Octavian, Cleopatra was painted as a villainous seductress who led Antony astray rather than a cultured queen who spoke more than seven languages. Preston's convincing narrative claims that had Cleopatra and Antony won the battle of Actium, not only would their personal love story have unfolded less tragically, but the region would have developed with more tolerance-and perhaps a difference outcome for later historical figures, including Jesus-thus rewriting Western history entirely. This very readable work is highly recommended to all history collections, as well as those in gender or women's studies and biography.
Historian Preston (Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima, 2005, etc.) casts Cleopatra as the fulcrum of power in the one of the world's first power couples. Before discussing the pivotal first encounter between young Cleopatra and the newly victorious Julius Caesar in Alexandria in 48 BCE, the author wades through a dense bloody history involving the Ptolemy dynasty of Egypt and the civil wars in Rome. Once the highly educated, politically astute, alluring Egyptian queen takes center stage, she commands complete attention. Preston describes her at length, even enlisting a specialist in "archaeosteology" to reconstruct her face. The author notes that Cleopatra was "probably not conventionally beautiful"; her appeal lay in her artfulness, charm, daring and shrewdness, qualities that warlike Caesar and later Antony greatly admired, and rarely saw in women. While Caesar served as her early protector, giving her a "divine heir" in the son Caesarion, Antony helped consolidate the power she needed to stabilize her reign. The two played at being godlike-Cleopatra was Isis incarnate, Antony the "new Dionysus"-and both were sensualists and fond of pomp and spectacle. Their passion for each other was driven by their shared "hunger for life," Preston asserts. Cleopatra skillfully coaxed from Antony territory concessions that nearly restored the empire of the early Ptolemies, and she proved a valuable political ally in the face of threats by Parthia and Octavian. Although Antony was criticized for losing his self-control and dignity by remaining with Cleopatra, Preston emphasizes how each fulfilled the other's "wider strategy." Had they prevailed, they might have co-ruled a vast empire.Preston closes with an analysis of how later mythmaking was particularly unkind to Cleopatra. Preston ably conveys her admiration for the Egyptian queen. Agent: Michael Carlisle/Inkwell Management
“If there is a better book about Cleopatra for today's reader, I don't know what it is… It's a very good book.” Washington Post
“Defying the traditional mythology that paints them as doomed star-crossed lovers, Preston places this amazing power couple firmly into the historical, political, and military contexts that shaped them and were, in turn, shaped by them.” Booklist
“This very readable work is highly recommended to all history collections, as well as those in gender or women's studies and biography.” Library Journal