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Peter the Great: His Life and World | [Robert K. Massie]

Peter the Great: His Life and World

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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.

What the Critics Say

"Enthralling.... As fascinating as any novel and more so than most!" (New York Times Book Review)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

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  •  
    Susan poplarville, MS, United States 11-06-11
    Susan poplarville, MS, United States 11-06-11 Member Since 2005

    work as an artist and art restorer. read at least 48 books a year, because I can listen while I work.

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    "detailed history"

    this was one of those books I'd read many years before, and found it to be wonderfully interesting, and got me started liking history in general. Peter was such an intriguing character - and I was glad to see it offered in audible form. It is, however quite detailed, and if you are not interested in how military battles commence, then maybe this is not for you. I do recommend it however, for its insight into not just Peter, but Russian life at the time.

    12 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Adam IRVING, TX, United States 10-26-11
    Adam IRVING, TX, United States 10-26-11 Member Since 2005

    Adam

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    "Very good"

    This is a very good book. It covers a critically important topic in history that is often neglected, and does it in good detail with great prose. One thing in particular I liked about it was that on several occasions it discusses some other events going on in Europe at the time, and is thus even more informative than it would be otherwise.

    11 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Abby Seattle, WA, United States 08-08-11
    Abby Seattle, WA, United States 08-08-11
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    "Engaging, easy to follow, and well narrated."

    Mr. Massie's book is very engaging and flows with an easy narrative. The scenes and people are very well described, giving the reader a rich visual and psychological picture of Peter the Great's Russia. He does a great job of detailing not only great events but also such things as interior and exterior architecture, hairstyles, crime statistics, the different materials shoes were made of, what contemporary maps looked like, food eaten by peasants and at court, and etc. He also does great service to describing the situation of women in general but also the specific details of women whose lives came to bear on the story of Peter and current events. The many characters and parties are easy to keep track of, and all in all this book is a clear picture of the life and times of Peter the Great. The narration was clear and engaging - though I find that British accents can be sometimes hard to understand, I had no such problem with this audiobook. I would recommend this for any person, not only Russophiles or history buffs.

    10 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    07-19-11
    07-19-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Excellent Book!"

    This audio version of a fantastic book is perfect. The narrator is grand, capable of pronouncing russian names without a problem, and keeping the right rythm, not reading to slow or to quickly.
    The book is written, grouping the events and actions surrounding certain persons or places, or stages and attitudes of Peter's life, into chapters. It does not progress chronologically from event to event, be they unrelated, that the reader would soon feel themselves asking "who is he? and how does he relate?" It is excellently structured, it reads well. I give it a top notch rating.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dan Harlow Fort Collins 02-02-14
    Dan Harlow Fort Collins 02-02-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Peter, it seems, was so great he barely seem human"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brenda CENTRAL POINT, OR, United States 12-30-11
    Brenda CENTRAL POINT, OR, United States 12-30-11 Member Since 2011
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    "Narrater ruins everything"
    What would have made Peter the Great better?

    The reading was so poor I could not finish- Big disappointment.


    Has Peter the Great turned you off from other books in this genre?

    I will make a point to never purchase another book with this narrator


    What didn’t you like about Frederick Davidson’s performance?

    lispy, robotic, hard to understand, affected


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    disappointment for sure - was looking forward to a good snuggle down and listen but could not complete due to irritating voice


    20 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roger South Orange, NJ, United States 09-12-11
    Roger South Orange, NJ, United States 09-12-11 Member Since 2004
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    "Thorough and well told biography"

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David Houston, TX, United States 09-08-13
    David Houston, TX, United States 09-08-13 Member Since 2008

    Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.

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    "Accurate title"

    His life and WORLD indeed. This is much more than a detailed biography of a fascinating man. Massie includes extensive character studies of every major figure on the European scene during Peter's rule, with major digressions into the social and political landscape in which they operated. The result is a sweeping appraisal of the age in Russia and its European and Ottoman environs, filled with evocative detail which brings it all to life. I found it most convenient to listen in fairly small bites over a long period of time and enjoyed the book extremely. Some of this history was fairly new to me, and following the peripatetic and much larger than life Peter through his extraordinary life was a great way to get to know it.

    There is a good deal of military and campaign narrative in the book for which it is helpful to have some maps close at hand. The writing is of such a high caliber, however, that even those who are bored by military history will likely find enough colorful detail, along with glimpses of a plethora of intriguing characters of all stripes, to maintain interest. And in the end this is definitely not a book dominated by battles. Even in a narrative which is so wide ranging and all encompassing, only one subject dominates--the towering personage of Peter.

    My only regret about this huge book is that so much of it will pass out of my memory in short order. Perhaps in a few years I will listen again, and that is high praise about so long a book from a person who almost never rereads.

    Finally, though the book is decades old, written before the end of the Soviet Union, it still stands up very well, even read by Frederick Davidson in his sometimes irritatingly mannered style. I recommend it highly to any fan of well written popular history.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 05-11-14
    Michael Moore Bay Area, CA USA 05-11-14 Member Since 2005

    mcubed33

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    "My Favorite HIstorian!"

    Here is another example of a masterful storyteller and historian at work. The Massie histories read like personal biographies—amply supported by contemporary letters and memoirs, they furnish memorable and personal accounts of the time. You will be much enriched by this book, as well as all others that Massie has authored.

    Here one learns a number of unforgettable and vivid stories about Peter the Great. For example, his frequent habit of traveling abroad “incognito” in order to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about the technology and culture of the lands he visited without the waste of time and needless formality that he would have encountered on an official visit as Czar of Russia. A man of restless energy and great ambition, he recognized early on that Russia must learn from the West, rather than stay isolated in its own traditions (a lesson the current leader, Mr. Putin, might well ponder anew). We also learn that Peter was a man of good luck. His great victory over the Swedish King Karl XII was nearly thrown away two years later when the Ottoman Turks in loose alliance with the Swedes were in a position to destroy the bulk of Peter’s army and likely would have had Karl been on the scene. Instead, a very mild peace was agreed by a Turkish commander who did not fully understand the strength of his position.

    You will enjoy this book for the many great insights on the period brought alive by personal stories, apt descriptions, and extremely well informed commentary of Mr. Massie, all supported by meticulous research and a very rare talent for interesting and engaging writing.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    laurie SARASOTA, FL, United States 01-20-14
    laurie SARASOTA, FL, United States 01-20-14 Member Since 2011

    I have edited 38 national best sellers and had a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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    "Let's Invite Peter for Dinner"

    How many times has someone asked, "If you could meet any historical figure . . ." and you had so many names flash before your eyes, you couldn't make a decision? Well, Peter the Great is Numero Uno for me after having listened to this book. He not only dragged Russia into the modern world, he was a wild man, with boundless curiosity, intelligence, and energy. He didn't care about society's dictates. He didn't care about ceremony, tradition, or rituals.He mocked courtly behavior and the Church. In many ways he was like an out-of-control fraternity boy. He drank too much and partied to the point where no one could keep up with him. At 6'7", he traveled throughout Europe "incognito," not wanting royalty to acknowledge him as he visited their country to learn all he could to improve the life of his countrymen.

    This book does not limit itself to Peter the Great. It's about his era, and it was fascinating. I can't recommend it enough.

    As for the narrator, is it possible this man lisps, and no one ever noticed?!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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