This superbly told story brings to life one of the most remarkable rulers––and men––in all of history and conveys the drama of his life and world. The Russia of Peter's birth was very different from the Russia his energy, genius, and ruthlessness shaped. Crowned co-Tsar as a child of ten, after witnessing bloody uprisings in the streets of Moscow, he would grow up propelled by an unquenchable curiosity, everywhere looking, asking, tinkering, and learning, fired by Western ideas.
We see Peter in his 20s traveling "incognito" with his ambassadors to the courts of Europe; as the victorious soldier proclaimed Emperor; as the simple workman at his forge; and as the visionary statesman who single-handedly created a formidable world power. Impetuous and stubborn, bawdy and stern, relentless in his perseverance, he was capable of the greatest generosity and the greatest cruelty.
©1980 Robert K. Massie (P)1991 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"Enthralling.... As fascinating as any novel and more so than most!" (New York Times Book Review)
This is an exhaustively researched and incredibly detailed look at Peter’s life, the influences on him, and the results of his actions. It is a well organized and well told story. Massie does a good job placing Peter’s life in the context of his times. He also begins several tantalizing discussions about the longer-term effects of Peter’s life, such as changes to balance of power calculations in Europe and, following Solzhenitsyn, the effects of the subordination of the Russian church to the government. Such discussions are fascinating, but not fully developed.
I take exception to the first reviewer's comments about the quality of the narration. I find Davidson's narration to be nuanced and enjoyable, and think it's a treat to experience Massie's thrilling biography as an audiobook. As I prepare for the publication of Massie's biography of Catherine the Great in the fall of 2011, it's a true pleasure to reencounter this classic work of biography/history as read by this accomplished narrator.
The reading was so poor I could not finish- Big disappointment.
I will make a point to never purchase another book with this narrator
lispy, robotic, hard to understand, affected
disappointment for sure - was looking forward to a good snuggle down and listen but could not complete due to irritating voice
74 y o avid reader using either my eyes or ears. I make earrings that I donate to shelters and while I work, I listen to wonderful books
If you want a "thorough" biography, this one's for you. But it was so much more than I cared about that I gave up.
In War and Peace, Tolstoy spends a lot of time explaining how one man, no matter how "great", can not actually change the course of events to any large degree. A humble man, by himself, can live a moral life and do as good as he can for the people around him, but he's not going to change the course of world history. Tolstoy argues events in human history are the outcomes of millions of interconnected threads made up of uncountable influences ranging from basic geography and weather to the less tangible such as the mood and passions of a nation. He argues that the "greater" the man, the more bound he is to these threads and the less able he is to actually alter and lead the flow of history.
Yet the life of Peter the Great, as written by Massie, proves otherwise to Tolstoy's philosophy. Here is a man who, if we are to believe Massie (and I do), almost single handed dragged all of Russia out of the shadowy, mystical, musty dark-ages into an enlightened Western world. Through his sheer force of personality, temper, God-given right to rule absolutely, and his never ending supply of energy did more in a lifetime than perhaps any man who has ever lived.
In just over 5 decades he drastically reformed his nation's religion, built a Navy where there had not even been a single ocean going vessel before him, founded universities, created an environment in which women - previously unable to function in society - could express their will legally and socially - and, most famously, built St. Petersburg on the sea where before there had only been a swamp owned by Sweden.
And in every detail of Peter's life Massie goes to extraordinary lengths to explain and enlighten us how and what Peter did - except one: Peter as a man.
What stuck me about the book is how even after everything Peter did and left behind, I don't know if I can really say I got a clear picture of him as an individual. We have all the idiosyncrasies here: his temper and his nervous twitch, his desire to put aside pomp and ceremony in exchange for simplicity, his singular love of the sea (which it seems nobody else in all of Russia shared with him), but he comes across almost as a machine through all this.
Peter, it seems, was so great, that he barely seemed human. Yes, he had his share of faults and he could also be a warm, friendly, prankster, but he was always the Czar and I felt like one of his subjects halfway into the book.
And perhaps that's the point Massie wanted to make. No matter who was being spoken of in the book (and a lot of time is given to King Charles of Sweden; Peter's respected enemy), I always felt like Peter was driving the chariot, whip in hand, and I was his beast of burden. No matter how close we get to him he still always seems that much further away. And I suspect that is how many who knew him felt, too.
Strange, too, that Peter is Russia's greatest leader because he's the least Russian of them all. He so badly wanted his country to be European and to be taken seriously whereas generations later (after Napoleon's invasion) Russians wanted to pull back from the west. All those western cultural values Peter loved were seen as decadent by men like Leo Tolstoy (whose grandparent, Peter, plays a very important role here).
And so, once Peter died and his almost super-human influence was put into the ground, Russia did her best to become Russian once again, though Russia would never be the same, either. For all this "great" man did in opposition to Tolstoy's philosophy, he never really was able to really make Russia a part of Europe. Russia would always be, in a way, 400 years behind the rest of the world and proud of it too. The Russians didn't want someone to change them; change seems to go against what being Russian is at heart.
But like the final dramatic scene in the book where Peter leaps into the freezing ocean to save a floundering ship, Peter did his best for a nation that did need him otherwise she would have been conquered again - probably by Charles - or would have faded into obscurity.
He was a remarkable man and though what I could learn about him I don't know if I like (he intimidates me), I respect him as a man as best you can respect an absolute autocrat.
Wonderful book and should be required reading for learning about Russian history. No wonder this book won so many awards.
arbiter of great taste
I have been an Audible customer for many years. This is the first book for which I have wanted my money back. The narrator, who I'm sure is a nice guy, does not speak American English and I am tired of trying to figure out what the heck he's saying. I lived in NYC for 30 years and have a good understanding of dialects. This book could be great, but you'd never know.
Anyone who speaks American English.
Frustration, frustration, then anger.
Do not buy this book.
Robert K. Massie is my favorite historical writer. I was happy to find the biography of Peter The Great at audible. But the reader's nasal effected voice was almost unbearable to hear. The biography is great but the reader ruined the pleasure of listening for me!
Yes: particularly if I knew that my friend had an interest in Russian and European history.
It explained in detail why Peter is regarded as "The great" and much insight was provided into the European power struggles from the late Seventeen Century.
The tempo - sometimes ponderous and a little too much of the Oxbridge.
The determination to build St Petersburg as the new capital of Russia.
This is the second of Massey's books purchased from Audible. I plan to buy and read more of them: Massey's style is lively, informative and it seems that every attempt is made to research thoroughly and to represent issues in a fair and balanced manner.
This book has provided me a better insight into the culture that is Russia. The history of these people, as related to Peter, gives you specifics of the customs, and perspectives of these people. After seeing their perceptions, I now understand why they see us the way they do. Outstanding book.
This is a really good book! Very informative and entertaining. I felt I had a much better understanding of Russian history and it served as a good foundation for other Russian history books.
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