The best books on Cleopatra and ancient Egypt

Who am I?

The genre I specialize in is Ancient Historical Fiction. I have always been fascinated by history, and my vacations often involve visiting ancient ruins. I’m an avid reader on various periods of our past, especially Egypt, Rome, Mesopotamia, and India, and I enjoy writing about them. On the topic of Egypt and Cleopatra — Egypt is one of my favorite civilizations, and Cleopatra is one of the more interesting figures. I wanted to give her a treatment I felt she deserved—as a capable administrator, brilliant, ruthless, and fighting the circumstances of her times.

I wrote...

The Last Pharaoh - Book I: Regent: Rise of Cleopatra

By Jay Penner,

Book cover of The Last Pharaoh - Book I: Regent: Rise of Cleopatra

What is my book about?

51 B.C., Alexandria, Egypt. With her father sick and her sister dead by his hands, sixteen-year-old Cleopatra is poised to assume the heavy mantle of power and exercise the divine authority vested in her by the gods of Egypt. But the gilded arches and marble columns hide a grim reality and the gathering of storm clouds. A surly Rome is banging on her doors for debt repayments, the kingdom is on the verge of a civil war, and the dying king's powerful advisors seek to discard her like a rag and control the kingdom through her brother. Now, the young regent must confront her adversaries and walk the tightrope over an abyss of treachery and conflict, because one wrong move means ending three thousand years of Pharaonic rule and turning up as a corpse in the Alexandrian marshes.

The Books I Picked & Why

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Cleopatra: A Life

By Stacy Schiff,

Book cover of Cleopatra: A Life

Why this book?

Schiff’s treatment of Cleopatra, showing how she was shaped by her time, and what she dealt with before and during her rule, is exceptional in that it not only steps away from the usual tropes about her, but also gives an expansive glimpse to her world. 

Drawing from scant direct sources of the famous queen but providing context through various sources of the time on other major players, she paints a picture of Cleopatra that is complex, interesting, and leaves one with a much better sense of who she probably was and why she did what she did.

Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire

By James Romm,

Book cover of Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire

Why this book?

It is this book, about the successors of Alexander the Great, that inspired me to write my first novel, the Atlantis Papyrus. It is a great read—the pages feel less like an academic paper and more like an action novel and keeps one’s interest until the very end. I learned about so many fascinating figures in Alexander’s world I had never really known about and the tumultuous years following his death. In my work, I drew inspiration from some of the characters and events depicted in this book.

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt

By Kara Cooney,

Book cover of The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut's Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt

Why this book?

Professor Cooney’s work sheds light on what it meant to rule as a woman—it covers the rise and rule of another enigmatic and famous female ruler, Hatshepsut of Egypt. I found it to be an illuminating treatment of the challenges and complexities of female royals, and it influenced some of my thinking on the book on Cleopatra. It is a great book that depicts what ancient Egypt was like—from the ways of life, to the politics, to the exhausting rituals!

River God

By Wilbur Smith,

Book cover of River God

Why this book?

This was the book that made me fall in love with Ancient Historical Fiction. It painted such a vivid and memorable picture of ancient Egypt, painting a tapestry of love, desire, ambition, and violence, and a must for readers who enjoy a thrilling ride.

The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen

By A.C. Mace, Howard Carter,

Book cover of The Discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen

Why this book?

Who has not heard of King Tut? Written by the discoverer of the tomb, the book is a fascinating glimpse into the mind of an accomplished archeologist and a window to the fabulous riches of Egypt. Reading firsthand about what they saw and how things were placed gives us an insight into how things may have been in the last few hours of sealing the tomb. I often use such content to fuel my imagination of what might have happened.

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