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
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.
Yes I would and I I did listen to parts more than once to better understand the details of the Russian history. I was very interested in how people react to treatment and surroundings during their formative years. It questions why some become bitter and self serving while others survive and learn from childhood experiences. It seems that Catherine was forged into a strong, wise woman while her husband was badly damaged and could not overcome the challenges of his early life.
Catherine was my favorite character as she learned from each challenge she faced and overcame. She was able to control her emotions and behavior and observe rationally. In the end she was able to use all that she learned and did impact the country positively. I did feel that Elizabeth groomed Catherine to rule after she became aware of the failings of her nephew. Catherine did not become bitter as she struggled to survive the hardships but rather became a very wise person with conviction and certainly courage. She was a strong, intelligent woman who earned respect and ruled well.
I just enjoy listening to stories being told. I don't know if I would have felt any different if I had been reading the book.
There was not a moment but I was moved by Catherine overcoming her treatment and becoming a great ruler in her own right and ruling with intelligence and grace. Her attempting to free the serfs and seeing that it was wrong showed why she was a great ruler.
I listened to the book once but stopped many times and went back to earlier passages and listened carefully. It was a history brought to life and a story well told. The author was able to make you feel her as a living, breathing person living her life as best she could.
Rather than dwelling upon the unfairness or cruelty, Catherine filed it away and moved on to what she could affect positively. She knew the difference between the things she could change and the things she had to accept and could not change at the time. When her time came to rule, she was indeed a competent and able ruler in all ways. Was she born to rule or did she learn to rule as she faced her childhood challenges?
Intelligent, well-written, engaging history. I learned so much about Catherine and Russian history. Very enjoyable!
How Catherine was made
None due to Deakins performance, which was fairly straightforward. I can't say he added anything significant to the story with his reading, but he did not take anything away from it, and his voice was consistent and engaging.
The Education of an Empress
Though this book covers an incredible amount of detail in the history of this woman, I actually couldn't wait to listen again.
I actually think the book might be a bit overwhelming if read. There is something about the forced clip of an audio book that keeps it going.
A salute to continued education.
This woman had many things against her achieving what she did - family support (for this), chauvism, nationality.. but she did it and did it well. If she could have implemented some of her progressive ideas it may have saved Nicholas' life generations later.
Yes, because it tells a story of an unknown but courageous German girl who became a Tsar of Russia without being Russian, despite difficult circumstances, & she became a benevolent ruler caring deeply for her subjects being guided by the principles of the Enlightenment as influenced by Voltaire & others. R. K. Massie brought Catherine II & the times in which she lived, to life for me, it was so well written,
i was impressed with Catherine's pluck & her ability to manage her difficult circumstances once in Russia, at age 16, while being, married to a spoiled brat of a teenage husband, with no love for one another, yet she remained under control, & she really tried to be a good wife to her husband the grand duke Peter, but he was childishly impossible.
I was impressed with her maturity in governing her people, as well as her desire to self educate herself. her wisdom in collecting the finest art of her day was impressive, as well as her lavishing her great wealth on those whom she respected....in a way she reminded me of Cleopatra in taking lovers who could help her rule. as well as Queen Elizabeth I of England in remaining unmarried (mainly because she did not want to share the power of her office). I learned much about life in the 1700's & Massie's writing style was so engaging that despite it bring a long book at 600+ pages, I felt lost when i finished the book as I did not want it to end. And the story lingers on in my mind. I have made it my book club's selection for April. Thank you Mr. Massie for your excellent writing style. It was a pleasure to read.
I thought his voice reading the story was excellent, he modulated his voice just enough to never make me tire of listening to him. and I appreciated his pace too, not too fast nor too slow. i found him to be quite like able.
"Great book about a great woman"
I'm a history geek - and proud of it. I like biographies - and this one is among the best I've ever heard. Narration is great, and the book so well written it's hard to put my earplugs away. When I give it four stars instead of five it's due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of Russian names - pretty damn hard to keep track at times - especially in the part that describes Catherines coup. Other than that a great read - or ...hear ;D
"A mostly really interesting read"
I did not know much about Catherine beyond her penchant for art and french culture. However this book is a really interesting look into her life and development as one of the most powerful monarchs in history. I found the book to be a little uneven and this is the reason I didn't give it five stars. The first half is superb given to the fact that she kept a wonderful diary for the first half of her life which allows Massie to delve deeply into her motivations and personal experience. The second half, when she abruptly stopped recording her personal thoughts, makes the later half of her life more of a typical history. Still, it's a wonderful book. Additionally, the narrator is quite good and makes this long book quite enjoyable to listen to.
Engrossing biography of an extraordinary female icon. Maligned for centuries but brave foreward thinking woman.
Who knew she tried out the smallpox vaccination before it was widely used?
A Scandalous Life- biography of Lady Jane Digby. Another feisty woman.
It is quite a dense book so it was more digestable perhaps than reading it.
Fills one with wonder that she achieved so much yet history has marked her down as a sex mad slut. Good to see her in the proper light.
"What a woman!"
Her diaries do bring the first half to life but I didn't really feel like it lagged in the second half as other reviewers have suggested. It's a great story; she's likeable and impressive enough that you root for her throughout; the cast of characters is astonishingly compelling and once her own version of events peters out as a source for the author he draws on plenty of other sources to document a landscape of egomanical European princelings; hyperventilating Russian nobles; a sort of revolving door of lovers; a pantomime villain mother and a husband straight out of Blackadder.
"Sometimes reads like a glossy magazine"
I might recommend the book, but in paper form. The narrator reads well but insists on using a very annoying, breathy female voice for Catherine and other female characters and uses these voices a lot. The title is "A Portrait of a Woman" and does dwell a lot on her life as a woman, her lovers in particular, which at times makes it read like an article from 'Hello'. The 'history' chapters were well written and narrated. I just wish there had been more of them.
Her seizure of power as the Empress.
Possibly not. Only if assured there were no female impersonations, because otherwise he reads very well. Some the foreign accents were a bit hammy as well.
Find out more about Peter the Great and The Russian Revolution.
Great book Great narration
This book is very interesting but you have to pay attention because of all the Russian names. I really enjoyed it and will listen again. I feel I now know a lot more about Catherine the Great and more about Russian history.
"A game of two halves"
I found the second half of the book, after Catherine's personal diaries cease, less engaging than the first when her voice makes the story more alive. I also felt the second half needed editing, the author goes off an tangents as if to make up for this dryness, for example about the history, effectiveness and ethics of the guillotine, which though interesting has very little to do with Catherine and, in these days of Wikipedia can be easily accessed by anyone who cares to know more on the subject.
Report Inappropriate Content