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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

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Very insightful

I recently visited Russia and Catherine The Great's palaces. This story brought so much to life for me. I didn't realize she had so many lovers. More importantly she initiated the first inoculations against Small Pox in her country. She was the grandmother to Nicholas Romanov the last Czar and ruler of Russia. Catherine The Great could have fore told his ending because she was determined to free Serfs. Also she lived through the overthrow of Louis VI and Marie Antoinette's rule in France.

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Fascinating woman

A woman who on the whole ruled very wisely. Narration was a bit sporific. Writing scholarly

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Fantastic!!

I found this book very interesting and much easier to absorb than many biographies. I will be looking for other Robert Massie books to read.

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Good overview

I liked the balanced portrait of this powerful woman. The author did a commendable job of explaining Catherine's motivation and her triumphs and defeats. Overall it was a thorough overview of her life. I would have liked just a bit more on her relationship with Paul.

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Great as was Catherine

The reader was wonderful, the telling of this historic character's rise to
power enthralling. The complexity was not overwhelming because of reminders of what we'd heard before and the dominance of certain characters stood out over events

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Great story telling!

Would definitely recommend this book even if I wasn't a Russian history buff. The narration is easy to listen to and the story is drawn from many perspectives. I can't wait to read more from Massie!

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Catherine

I enjoyed the many hours of listening. The clarity of voice and the interest of history. What an enjoyable way to relax and learn.

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Great book!

Any additional comments?

This is a well researched, well narrated, and extremely well written biography. It easily held my attention. This is a must keep on my bookshelf.

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Remarkable woman

What made the experience of listening to Catherine the Great the most enjoyable?

This is history I never learned in school, a fascinating period in European and Russian history. Catherine and her story are remarkable by any standards and this telling captures the drama.

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

He can pronounce and distinguish the daunting Russian names.

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Loved it.

Massey is a fantastic writer. Well researched book. The narrator was very good. Enjoyable to listen to. Definitely recommend this audio book.