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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Tina Brown, the�editor of The�Daily Beast, is back in our New York studios once again to recommend some readings. It's a feature we call Word of Mouth. She tells us what she's been reading.

Hi, Tina.

Ms. TINA BROWN (Editor, The Daily Beast): Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Good to talk with you again. And this time, you've sent us some articles and a book recommendation as well, all of which have to do with women.

Ms. BROWN: Indeed.

INSKEEP: Let's begin with Nancy Pelosi. "The Case For Nancy Pelosi's Staying Put" by Mark Halperin and Time magazine.

Ms. BROWN: Yeah. A very good piece by Mark, I thought, because it's sort of counterintuitive, as everybody's baying for the blood of Nancy Pelosi and saying, you know, she really must step aside after this horrendous rout.

And he really makes the point that, you know, she's reliably made fools out of those who've underestimated her before, and that there is a strong case for having her stay and fight for the agenda which she got passed.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember the previous speaker of the House before Nancy Pelosi, Dennis Hastert, did retire when his party lost Congress. Before that, Newt Gingrich stepped down and his party didn't even lose Congress. They just lost some seats. So this is unusual that a speaker would decline to step aside when taking such a drubbing.

I'm curious about one thing in this. Some of the Democrats who have voiced some discomfort with Nancy Pelosi have basically said when you're in the minority, it's all about communications. You don't have the power anymore. You need to be able to send a message. And is that her strong suit, they're asking.

Ms. BROWN: It's not her strong suit. But that's�the point, really, that Mark Halperin's making, which is maybe it's�not�the time for Democrats to simply give up on the things that they fought for. Because after all, you know, we know that Republicans want to repeal health care, for instance, and she is now saying she's going to stay and make sure that that doesn't happen.

And, you know, I think she also feels that she was so demonized, that maybe the pendulum will swing the other way. You know, she said, I was demonized because I'm effective, she said to E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post, quoted by Halperin. She says, they had to put a stop to me because we were effective in passing health-care reform, which the health insurance industry wanted to stop, Wall Street reform, which Wall Street wanted to stop, and reform of student loans for taking the money out of the banks and giving it back to the taxpayers and to families.

So she says that she's ready to fight on. And there is a possibility that you'll see a comeback for Nancy Pelosi, and they might even feel glad that they have such a ferocious fighter with them.

INSKEEP: Tina Brown of The Daily Beast has sent us some readings on women, including a really quite disturbing article. The headline is "For Afghan Wives, a Desperate, Fiery Way Out," in the New York Times.

Ms. BROWN: Yeah. I was so incredibly moved by this piece. I've - for a long time, we've covered tremendously, in The Daily Beast, the whole plight of Afghan women. And it's a terribly sad story about how in western Afghanistan, the desperation and misery of women is such that they have taken, in greater and greater numbers, to setting fire to themselves.

INSKEEP: What is happening in Afghanistan that would cause more women to be this desperate?

Ms. BROWN: Well, it's a very interesting question as to why. They have become something of a kind of rounding error, frankly, in the talks about what to do about Afghanistan. The president really never mentions women.

Secretary Clinton has campaigned very fiercely for the greater empowerment of women, their education. Goldman Sachs actually has launched this incredible program, Ten Thousand�Women, in fact. And I actually hosted something with them the other day for two amazing young Afghan entrepreneurs who, in the face of all these things that they have to confront, have nonetheless become entrepreneurs.

We had a 25-year-old woman who was running a construction company with 75 people working for her. And her whole city is reigned by the Taliban. And she just somehow manages to run this business.

So the place is full of these kind of women who are fighting against all odds to get their independence, to try and make a life. And I think the desperation of some of these women in these rural places, who feel no exit, they see nothing for themselves except to make this protest, which is the only independent thing they can do, set fire to themselves, which is an incredibly sad thing.

INSKEEP: Well, let's move from women at the bottom of the social scale to a woman who was very much at the top in her time.

Ms. BROWN: The story of Cleopatra. This is - I think she's a fascinating woman, and always has been. But Stacy Schiff, who is a brilliant writer and has created�a book that's so well-written�that it's almost like a novel in its kind of juicy literary flair, writes about a woman who we just have never heard of before in this kind of way about her. She's always been buried in the mascara of screen icons for us.

INSKEEP: Elizabeth Taylor, and so forth.

Ms. BROWN: Liz Taylor, and so on. And now, actually, she's about to be played by Angelina Jolie, I think, based on this book.

But Cleopatra was a woman so brilliant, in fact - I mean, she spoke seven languages. She commanded fleets. She was wildly learned from the books that were housed in the great library in Alexandria - the capital of learning, as well as the capital of fashion - and she had an extraordinary grasp of the theatricality of power.

You know, she's, in ways, been written off slightly as a kind of luxurious creature who played a siren to all these powerful Caesars. But, of course, her use of luxury and her use of splendor was very much about power politics. And she understood that when she appeared in Tarsus - her first meeting with Mark Antony - she arrived on this incredible barge with purple sails and nymphs fanning her.

She really was extraordinary. And, of course, one look at her, and Mark Antony was just dazzled out of his mind, and, of course, began this passionate 10-year affair with her that ended in their double suicide.

INSKEEP: Have you got nymphs fanning you at The Daily Beast?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: I really want a bunch of nymphs, you know, I...

INSKEEP: And purple sails and so forth.

Ms. BROWN: I would actually settle for the purple sails.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BROWN: But I just love this book. And you know what's great about it, too, is the way that Schiff kind of makes Alexandria itself a siren in the story. I mean, this city is evoked so brilliantly by her. She says that, during the day, Alexandria echoed with the sounds of horses' hooves, the cries of porridge sellers and chickpea vendors, spice stands released exotic aromas, long-legged white and black ibises assembled at every intersection. She said it was a mood-altering city of extreme sensuality and high intellectualism, the Paris of the ancient world, superior in its ways, splendid in its luxuries, the place to go to spend your fortune, write your poetry, find or forget a romance, restore your health, reinvent yourself or regroup after having conquered far swaths of Italy, Spain and Greece over the course of a Herculean decade.

INSKEEP: Mm.

Ms. BROWN: Wonderful stuff. And, of course, even more evocative given that that old Alexandria has sunk beneath the sea. There's something sort of very, very haunting about that. You know, you kind of wonder whether somebody will be saying the same thing about New York City, you know, 500 years from now...

INSKEEP: Well...

Ms. BROWN: ...buried beneath the oceans.

INSKEEP: Word of Mouth, from Tina Brown. Thanks very much.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: She's editor-in-chief of the Daily Beast. And you can find links to her recommendations at npr.org.

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