Cleopatra: A Life
by Stacy Schiff
Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen
Her palace shimmered with onyx, garnets, and gold, but was richer still in political and sexual intrigue. Above all else, Cleopatra was a shrewd strategist and an ingenious negotiator.
Though her life spanned fewer than forty years, it reshaped the contours of the ancient world. She was married twice, each time to a brother. She waged a brutal civil war against the first when both were teenagers. She poisoned the second. Ultimately she dispensed with an ambitious sister as well; incest and assassination were family specialties. Cleopatra appears to have had sex with only two men. They happen, however, to have been Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, among the most prominent Romans of the day. Both were married to other women. Cleopatra had a child with Caesar and--after his murder--three more with his protégé. Already she was the wealthiest ruler in the Mediterranean; the relationship with Antony confirmed her status as the most influential woman of the age. The two would together attempt to forge a new empire, in an alliance that spelled their ends. Cleopatra has lodged herself in our imaginations ever since.
Famous long before she was notorious, Cleopatra has gone down in history for all the wrong reasons. Shakespeare and Shaw put words in her mouth. Michelangelo, Tiepolo, and Elizabeth Taylor put a face to her name. Along the way, Cleopatra's supple personality and the drama of her circumstances have been lost. In a masterly return to the classical sources, Stacy Schiff here boldly separates fact from fiction to rescue the magnetic queen whose death ushered in a new world order. Rich in detail, epic in scope, Schiff 's is a luminous, deeply original reconstruction of a dazzling life.
by Tracy Borman
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
Borman (King's Mistress) recreates the life, times, and key relationships of one of the most iconic women in history: Elizabeth I. Although Elizabeth is famous for deriding her sex and flirting publicly with favorites like Robert Dudley, Borman explores how other women shaped Elizabeth's personality early on. The beheadings of both her mother, Anne Boleyn, and stepmother Katherine Howard at Henry VIII's behest, and half-sister Mary's humiliating subservience to a foreign prince, made Elizabeth wary of men and convinced her that she must remain a virgin to succeed as queen regnant. Elizabeth shared a passion for religious reform and lively discourse with her stepmother Katherine Parr while her sister Mary's inflexible Catholicism taught her to never openly commit to any single policy. Elizabeth inherited Anne Boleyn's cruelty and vindictiveness, evident in her treatment of cousins who were prettier, younger rivals to the throne: Katherine Grey, who was imprisoned until her premature death, and Mary, Queen of Scots, also imprisoned and eventually beheaded. A standout in the flood of Tudor biographies, this smart book offers a detailed exploration of Elizabeth's private relationships with her most intimate advisers and family members.
by Amanda Foreman
Catherine de Medici: Renaissance Queen of France
Sex, intrigue and adultery in the world of high politics and huge wealth in late eighteenth-century England. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire was one of the most flamboyant and influential women of the eighteenth century. The great-great-great-great aunt of Diana, Princess of Wales, she was variously a compulsive gambler, a political savante and operator of the highest order, a drug addict, an adulteress and the darling of the common people. This authoritative, utterly absorbing book presents a mesmerizing picture of a fascinating world of political and sexual intrigues, grand houses, huge parties, glamour and great wealth -- always on the edge of being squandered by the excesses and scandals of individuals.
by Leonie Frieda
The Autobiography of Mark Twain Vol 1
In 1533, 14-year-old Catherine de Medici arrived in France to marry the future king Henri II; over the next 16 years, she endured the dominance of Henri's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the disdain of courtiers for her family's merchant background. The sudden death of Henri launched Catherine into three decades as regent and chief adviser to three sons who ruled in succession. Frieda navigates the twists and turns of the French royal court and family with particular attention to the formation of Catherine's political skills. From her lonely childhood as a tool in the diplomacy of her powerful uncles to her carefully cultivated relationship with her father-in-law and maneuvering through shifting family alliances, the queen learned self-possession, deception and strategy.
Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Four Kings
Mark Twain is his own greatest character in this brilliant self-portrait, the first of three volumes collected by the Mark Twain Project on the centenary of the author's death. It is published complete and unexpurgated for the first time. (Twain wanted his more scalding opinions suppressed until long after his death.) Eschewing chronology and organization, Twain simply meanders from observation to anecdote and between past and present. There are gorgeous reminiscences from his youth of landscapes, rural idylls, and Tom Sawyeresque japes; acid-etched profiles of friends and enemies, from his "fiendish" Florentine landlady to the fatuous and "grotesque" Rockefellers; a searing polemic on a 1906 American massacre of Filipino insurgents; a hilarious screed against a hapless editor who dared tweak his prose; and countless tales of the author's own bamboozlement, unto bankruptcy, by publishers, business partners, doctors, miscellaneous moochers; he was even outsmarted by a wild turkey. Laced with Twain's unique blend of humor and vitriol, the haphazard narrative is engrossing, hugely funny, and deeply revealing of its author's mind. His is a world where every piety conceals fraud and every arcadia a trace of violence; he relishes the human comedy and reveres true nobility, yet as he tolls the bell for friends and family--most tenderly in an elegy for his daughter Susy, who died in her early 20s of meningitis--he feels that life is a pointless charade. Twain's memoirs are a pointillist masterpiece from which his vision of America--half paradise, half swindle--emerges with indelible force.
by Amy Kelly
The ruler of France's largest kingdom from the age of 15, Eleanor (1122- 1204) was renowned for beauty, intelligence, and the thoughtful application of power. Her marriage to her second husband, Henry Plantagenet of Normandy, brought her to the English throne; the birth of their sons John Lackland and Richard I Lionheart forever changed the face of medieval European history. Always at the center of her world, Eleanor remains a fascinating figure even today, and Amy Kelly captures the whirlwind of her life in this entrancing biography.