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 Massie did an excellent job telling this incredible story of Catherine the Great. The narration was equally excellent. I should make a note that I was a little concerned about buying this book in audible form. I find that stories about royal families and their subjects can get a bit confusing when it comes to lineage, who did what…etc so I typically buy hardcopy books so I can refresh my memory by looking at previous chapters. I clearly didn't need to worry about that with this audible version. The story was well organized and the author takes the time to refresh the readers’ memory from time to time. I was disappointed to reach the end. Now I am going to purchase Peter the Great from the same author. I can't wait!
I'm a private mortgage banker for Wells Fargo. I'm married with 5 children and 2 granddaughters. I love Audible as I spend lots car time.
It's hard to believe this woman accomplished so much in her life without Internet, computers, or modern transportation. This is an excellent book, and I loved the fact that so much of it was obtained from Catherine's own writings. Excellent book!
Absorbing, fascinating and unlikely
In any telling of the life of Catherine the Great, Catherine must be the central character. Nobody but Catherine herself could have invented her.
It is clear that the narrator is simply reading words (which he does quite well) but has no deeper connection to the subject. Constant and consistent mispronunciation of Russian German and French words and names (and not just the difficult ones) are distracting and make one think he did no preparation. This may seem like a trivial point, but a good reading is one where one feels like the narrator knows what he/she is talking about and that is not the case here.
There are genuinely amusing, genuinely moving and genuinely horrifying moments.
This is a well paced and lively telling of a great story. It does not dig very deep into the history of the period, the mind of the protagonist or the culture of the period. But presents the information that it does provide in a manner that is clear and understandable for anyone with no background on the subject and that is no small accomplishment
This is an amazing story but I couldn't bring myself to finish it. The narrator had a very heavy American accent, who failed to bring me into the world of this Russan Queen. Deakins reading was boring, and inappropriate for this wonderful tale. Totally spoilt my experience.
A female voice as it's about a female Queen. Joanne Lumley would have been perfect.
This book is not meant for history lovers. There are snippets of great historical events but most of it is just court drama and gossips from Catherine time. It's not a terrible book but it could have been so much more.
Solid performance by the narrator.
I have recommednded to this book to many freinds.
The 1762 coup, when Catherine and the Orlov brothers overthrew Catherine's husband Peter.
I have not listened to any other books read by Mark Deakins, but I will watch out for him in the future.
I was moved by the love affair of Catherine and Grigory Potempkin.
The book was fast paced and interesting.
I'm a retired librarian with a strong interest in religion, Russian history and biography, and the two world wars. Have been known to take a side trip to mysteries with a political angle.
This is the 13th bio of Catherine the Great I have read. I just can't let her go. They all draw on the same materials, and the Massie book is one of the most scholarly of the lot. (Some of the others didn't even mention her iconic trip to the Crimea.) Massie traces her chronologically from her birth in a small German state through her rise as one of the most honored of Russia's czars. He also shapes whole chapters to elucidate one or another aspects of her reign or personality. She endeavored to reshape the government to reflect enlightenment thinking, including the emancipation of the serfs, but fell afoul of practical roadblocks such as the need to retain the loyalty of the aristocracy and put down a peasant uprising that could have taken her out. She built fabulous palaces and collected art and libraries of the major French thinkers. Her armies conquered vast areas held by the Turks. (She settled the land with thousands of German farmers, but Massie left out that detail.) All the while, she maintained a vigorous private and public life, keeping an impressive string of lovers (one of whom, Gregory Potemkin, she may have married), nurtured her successor grandsons, and led the way to new thinking about public health by getting a smallpox vaccination. I wish the narrator's voice had been a bit softer, but other than that, I thought this was one of the best. My favorite bio of her is Great Catherine by Carolly Erickson.
I am an Australian woman who enjoys reading many different styles of books, from history to sci fi and mystery to poetry. I also love to listen to the same whilst not paying attention to other things. I aim for my reviews to be short and succinct so that they are easy to read.
Any person that is frightened of history books should listen to this. You will be fascinated by this woman and the story is easy to listen to. Not like a Dostoyevsky novel at all so don't worry about being confused by the number and sound of names.
The Q :While I drive, on public transportation, when there is a need to tune everyone out and transport myself to another place, another time...
Not certain I would listen to again - maybe certain chapters to review, but would read another book on her. Catherine is fascinating. I don't agree with the monarchy or aristocracy at all - it is just that a person, especially a woman in that day and age, can climb to such heights.
Catherine of course! The strength of her, just surviving the court intrique and her husband's wrath was an acheivement. She came to a foreign country as a young girl, not only gains power and changes the course of Russia, and wins their hearts. She is such a unique person in the historical annals - especially as a female in a patriarchal country and time. It was not her inheritance, it was not her birth country, yet she ruled for over 30 years. She was continued the modernation of Russia and was well read and versed in enlightment - although she did not practice as democratic ideas if allowed to flourish and take hold would be a threat to monarchies. She deserves as much study as so many other historical figures.
Having been fortunate enough to have visited the Hermitage, one is dumbfounded by the magnitude of the collections. If this was all she accomplished, it would be phenomenal legacy.
It was interesting to learn she had other children beside Paul.
Was very interested in the years with her awful husband.
When Catherine gave birth to Paul, and how miserably she was treated, the shear discomfort, pain and misery she must have been in.
It was Massie's Peter the Great that gave me the desire to travel to St. Petersburg, it was one of the greatest trips in my life. Before that trip, I read a little about Catherine yet they did not complete her story. Now I want to go back!
The story overall. Some parts are repeated to keep you familiar with the timeline associated with the big events in Catherine's life.
Yes but not possible, very very long!!!
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