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
This is a little long, but very well researched and performed. Catherine the Great was a very interesting person, both personally and in terms of what she accomplished for Russia. This really helped me get through some long commute hours - highly recommend!
Top 3. It makes me sit longer in my car just to hear a few more minutes before going in to work.
Comfortable voice and articulation is wonderful!
I cheered for Catherine!
Usually books with Russian names make for tough audiobooks. It's hard to follow their names. But this book is written so well there is no trouble! Wonderful timeline and detailed story of an amazing time in history!
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.
"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
"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.
"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.
"Fascinating and detailed history of a remarkable woman living in remarkable times"
A window not only into Russian and European history, but the story of a remarkable woman, her life and loves, as she grows from innocent bride into the foremost figure of her times, negotiating the corridors of power and the intricacies of personal relationships, revealing a fully rounded character examined and set amidst a well researched cast of players whose intricate dance of hopes, loves, aspirations, disappointments, frustration and fears make each character fully rounded and engaging. A brilliant and easily accessible biography, of a woman and her times, well researched and engagingly written. The narration was also excellent, in as much it didn't distract from the story... The only times I 'noticed' the narrator was when he used an English accent for the ambassador, although a good accent, I couldn't help 'listening' to his rendition instead of the content!
"Great historical account"
Loved it. I'm a history nerd so while other people listen to thrillers and romance...I listen to history books. This book has awoken an interest in Russian history. Story easy to follow and you get a real sense of the woman Catherine. Narration also good, dramatic where it needed to be.
"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.
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