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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman | [Robert K. Massie]

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What Members Say

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  •  
    Lynn 04-11-12
    Lynn 04-11-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not a Biography Per Se"

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sara Anchorage, AK, United States 04-09-12
    Sara Anchorage, AK, United States 04-09-12 Member Since 2009
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    "A story of nature versus nurture"
    Would you listen to Catherine the Great again? Why?

    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.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    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.


    What does Mark Deakins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    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.


    Any additional comments?

    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?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kath 04-09-12
    Kath 04-09-12

    booksfromkate

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    "Catherine the Great is Great!"
    Where does Catherine the Great rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Intelligent, well-written, engaging history. I learned so much about Catherine and Russian history. Very enjoyable!


    What did you like best about this story?

    How Catherine was made


    Which character – as performed by Mark Deakins – was your favorite?

    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.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    The Education of an Empress


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janna Highlands Ranch, CO, United States 04-02-12
    Janna Highlands Ranch, CO, United States 04-02-12
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    "Great History- Great Life"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Though this book covers an incredible amount of detail in the history of this woman, I actually couldn't wait to listen again.


    What does Mark Deakins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    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.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janette Belvedere, CA, United States 04-02-12
    Janette Belvedere, CA, United States 04-02-12 Member Since 2014
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    "this is an engaging true story, well researched."
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    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,


    What did you like best about this story?

    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.


    What about Mark Deakins’s performance did you like?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michelle 01-24-12
    Michelle 01-24-12
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    "A beautiful, full, tragic story told well."
    Would you listen to Catherine the Great again? Why?

    I would listen to this again because the narrator is so sympathetic.


    What other book might you compare Catherine the Great to and why?

    Diana's biography by Andrew Morton comes close. It's about a royal woman, her life, and is portrayed in unflinching detail.


    Have you listened to any of Mark Deakins’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    No.


    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    r United States 05-24-12
    r United States 05-24-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Waste of time"
    What disappointed you about Catherine the Great?

    A biography of Catherine the Great should focus on why she was great. This sorry, windy excuse for history spent 90% of its time on niggling details of her upbringing, her family relationships, her loves (that endless procession of suitors!), and her household details. Government, wars, rebellions, alliances and political machinations are left to a few uninformative references. Boring, boring - don't waste your time and money.


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

    Not if they are better than this junk book.


    Would you listen to another book narrated by Mark Deakins?

    Not by this author


    What character would you cut from Catherine the Great?

    All her lovers


    Any additional comments?

    I think my opinion is fairly clear by now.

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pamela Miami, FL, United States 05-06-12
    Pamela Miami, FL, United States 05-06-12 Member Since 2006

    TechieEsq.

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    "Eye opening!!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    A very strong leader that was far from perfect, but she attempted to improve the lives of her people. Where I feel she could have done more, she did lay the groundwork for those that followed her. Additionally, I learned more about Russian and Polish history than I expected. Overall a great book.


    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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