The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.
Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.
Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”
©2011 Robert K. Massie (P)2011 Random House
Robert K. Massie (Nicholas and Alexandra, Peter the Great, The Romanovs) has brought a very engaging portrait of Catherine the Great to readers. Massie relates the story of a German German princess who comes to rule Russia. Readers benefit from Massie’s ability as a writer and his broad knowledge of Russian history and life. I would suggest that Catherine the Great is not a biography per se, but a book that retells Catherine’s life story and places it in a broader context. He introduces characters pivotal in her live into the narrative, and biographically tells their stories as well. That did not trouble me. Readers who want more detail about Catherine in particular might be disappointed. Conversely, the details Massie provides certainly help readers to understand her life in context. A very good book. Entertaining. Reading of Mark Deakins is very good.
I loved this book! It made the history of Russia come alive for me.
I liked the balanced portrait of this powerful woman. The author did a commendable job of explaining Catherine's motivation and her triumphs and defeats. Overall it was a thorough overview of her life. I would have liked just a bit more on her relationship with Paul.
The reader was wonderful, the telling of this historic character's rise to
power enthralling. The complexity was not overwhelming because of reminders of what we'd heard before and the dominance of certain characters stood out over events
Would definitely recommend this book even if I wasn't a Russian history buff. The narration is easy to listen to and the story is drawn from many perspectives. I can't wait to read more from Massie!
This is history I never learned in school, a fascinating period in European and Russian history. Catherine and her story are remarkable by any standards and this telling captures the drama.
He can pronounce and distinguish the daunting Russian names.
Really enjoyable, unfortunately it starts to get a little tedious once Catherine's personal accounts (through her memoirs) stop. I have not read anything else about her so I'm not sure how this material differs from others, but it was always interesting and painted a lovely portrait of her character and life.
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