Two Pieces of Excellent Nonfiction: Jay-Z and Cleopatra

With the holidays upon us, I’ve been negligent in posting the past two weeks even though I’ve managed to read some good books!

I read Jay-Z’s memoir Decoded on the way to Virginia for Thanksgiving. It’s brilliant. I know this book has been getting the sort of hype that makes you wonder if it’s really good or if they really just have a good marketing machine. I wrote a whole post about memoirs and how often they fail for me, but Jay-Z’s is no usual memoir. I’d call it more of a reflection on his life and how he got where he is mentally. Full of lots of color photos, it also has annotated lyrics to a selection of his songs. I think he’s a genius.

Another biography I finished recently which you should go and read right now is Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life. Schiff ¬†upends some of the major myths about Cleopatra. In a male-dominated society then and now, Cleopatra has never been given fair treatment. Schiff explains that Cleopatra was no beauty, even by Classical standards. She was, however, an amazing conversationalist, trained from birth in literature, art, rhetoric, and philosophy each day of the week. She was also the first pharaoh to actually speak Egyptian–the Ptolemys were Greek, not Egyptian. Schiff mines all sorts of details from her research giving the reader a well rounded portrait of Cleopatra and the time period. Given the sheer number of books on Cleopatra, why would you want to read another? This one brings history to life again and has the benefit of not being dumbed down.

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