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 has now tackled both the giants of Russian History: Peter and Catherine! From her relatively humble beginnings as Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst we begin to see this 18th century monarch sometimes as a present day adolescent, a frustrated wife, a political leader or even a celebrity. Like he did with Peter, Massie weaves in the more mundane aspects of biographical writing - the politics, the policies and the more risque ones with great skill. He is at the top of his oeuvre and it shows. But then this is such great material to work with! If you think of Catherine as the art collector, as the queen with deviant sexual tastes then this book will be a revelation. She comes across as an autocrat but not a despot, an enlightenment enthusiast only more practical and a woman who seeks the company of intelligent men: be it Voltaire or her great lover Potempkin.
The narration by Mark Deakins is, like all good narrations, un-noticeable. His ability to subtly change voices when para phrasing different characters never sounds contrived and by the end you will miss the friendly tone telling a good yarn. And you'll miss Catherine!
Massie really puts the research in to make this the consummate biography about Catherine. I have a new respect for her legacy. Entertaining because I find it fascinating to understand how life was back in her time. Sick? Just bleed 'em!
Her strange relationship with her husband, Peter III
The section about her courtship and early marriage.
I have read most of Mr. Massie's major works and thoroughly enjoyed their readability, construction and information. The reading of this however made one of the most fascinating lives in history in such an interesting time seem dull.
Someone that cares about the material.
I would have advised Mr. Deakins not to use an effeminate voice to narrate Catherine. It was distracting and irritating.
It's not only a detailed description of a woman, but also the personal view of a ruler and an insight of a period in history as viewed from the perspective of the Russian Empire in the context of European history. I definitely recommend it. Good for general knowledge and understanding the political dynamics that create history.
This book spent little time trying to understand the choices Catherine the Second, had to make in leading her country, her style of leadership, and her vision for Russia. If she was a leader what was her philosophy. Balancing her role as a vibrant woman with her role as executive would have made a more satisfying book
There is a great deal of time spent on interpersonal relationships and even dalliances. Trivial issues are repeated many times.
The best scene was her decision to overthrow her husband, that was described with great drama and visual effect.
This book does help the reader understand her decisions as far as relationships.
This is a masterfully written book about an important and fascinating era in history. The reader was excellent.
Don't be afraid of its length; it reads like a great novel.
Yes. It's a wonderful history of both the personal and social. For the first time I considered what was going on in the U.S. at the time of our founding relative to Russia. The Enlightenment had a powerful impact on Katherine but she could not implement it because the current structure simply wouldn't allow it. Also, the question of serfs and slavery and how both countries ended up dealing with the issue.
I also loved that two strong women, Alexandra and then Katherine ruled Russia for so long and during a transitional period.
I was stunned at the way Alexandra took Katherine's children.
The social history.
His pronounciations in the original language adds authenticity and somehow is transportive.
What women need to know to lead.
Yes, fascinating detail of court life in 18th and 19th century Russia
Comparable to the Henry VII bio I am currently reading.
His pronounciation of Russian names -- a challenge for anyone -- was perfection. His diction was also very understandable.
No way -- it is way too long. But it was easy to take up where you left off. I read the book over a period of several weeks -- and I tend to be a all-in-one-day reader.
Massie has done a very commendable job in presenting Catherine as woman and the historical context of her life and reign.
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