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Publisher's Summary

Prize-winning historian and biographer, Carolly Erickson has created an eminently readable biography that recognizes the humanity of Great Catherine—Empress of Russia—with her majesty and immense capability. Dispelling some of the myths surrounding her voracious sexual appetite, the biographer portrays Catherine as a lonely woman far ahead of her time—achieving greatness in an era when women were executed on a husband’s whim.

©1994 Carolly Erickson (P)1995 Recorded Books, LLC

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Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Cheryl
  • Port Douglas, Australia
  • 04-01-13

What a woman. Sad to reach the end. Well read.

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

Among the best.

What did you like best about this story?

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book and was disappointed when it ended.That this book was taken from Catherines' actual memoirs was particularly intriguing. The book highlighted her frailties, remarkable strengths and basic needs as a woman needing to be loved by men, her children and her subjects. A grand life in Russian proportions.

What about Davina Porter’s performance did you like?

I thoroughly enjoyed her sympathetic narration.

13 of 13 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating subject, fascinating presentation

Catherine the Great, was an impressive woman. She was brilliant, studied seriously, and made a significant impact on Russia and it's people. She was also somewhat scandalous. This book covers her life and Russian history from her birth (in Prussia) in 1729 to her death in 1796. It's a great read, engaging and fast paced and full of fascinating details about life at court, the living conditions in Moscow and St Petersburg and her relationship with other thinkers and leaders of the time. I enjoyed it and learned from it.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great she was

Wow. That sums up my reaction to the person Catherine was. Knowing she eventually became Empress and ruled for decades, all through the story of her horrible childhood and worse situation as Peter III’s wife, I longed for her to take revenge. Of course being the judicious, self-possessed and level-headed person she was, she did no such thing. Not directly anyway. Her wit, success and lasting legacy are revenge enough. Just where are her haughty great-aunt-in-law or vicious husband now in the collective consciousness? Nowhere and nobodies. Catherine was Great and she is remembered.

Not perfect though, and I think Erickson did her best to reveal Catherine’s flaws as well as her strengths, though I think the overall goal was to show a woman who succeeded against a state and a system designed to keep her down and relegate her to failure. Davina Porter did a great job with all the personal and place names, too. No mean feat.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • Linda
  • Morrow, GA, United States
  • 02-25-13

beautifully done

I enjoy reading historical works and I had heard some of the sorted legends about Catherine the Great so I was excited to read this biography. She was a very strong willed woman and I really enjoyed hearing her story come to life. I found the reader extremely enjoyable and the story kept my interest and even though it was a long book....I got through it in only a few days as I looked for time to listen.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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An amazingly woman's life story

I don't usually read biographies, but noticed this and thought I'd listen--especially since the wonderful Davina Porter was reading it. Was not disappointed by either the story or the narration--both were simply magnetic! I listened almost non-stop (despite it's length).

Learning more about Catherine the Great really gave me a new sense of admiration for her. She was brought to the court to marry Peter at a very young age. She dealt with terrible conditions--was frequently treated badly by even Johanna, her own mother. Her relationship with her future mother-in-law (Empress Elizabeth) was quite interesting--a woman who would unpredictably treat her as though she was the most important woman in the world, shower her with gifts and attention, then inexplicably turn against her. Notably--when her son Paul was born, Elizabeth took him away from Catherine so she could shower all her love and attention on him, leaving Catherine a grieving post-partum mother without her child.

Her relationship with her husband Peter was equally interesting--as she largely found him unbearable. This led to her having affairs (which could possibly have resulted in her pregnancies). They were married, but Peter often treated her cruelly. He was killed after a coup and Catherine became Empress in her own right. She ruled during a magnificent time--"the Golden Age" of Russia, and accomplished great things during her reign.

Much of the book comes from Catherine's own memoirs. She was a woman of education and culture, and spoke about changes she brought about in the Russian court through her connections with people like Voltaire. She also seems to have described many instances of being ill--close to death, and one wonders at her stamina and resilience that she lived through so many crises.

This book reads like a novel--it feels pretty seamless (not a put together biography that reads in a choppy fashion). If you never knew it was a biography you might just think you were reading an excellent work of fiction--except it is not. I found this book fascinating--and truly recommend it!

15 of 16 people found this review helpful

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Davina Porter brings Catherine the Great to life.

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

Davina Porter could make anything interesting - even a laundry list! That said, the author has done a wonderful job with the subject matter and it's an enjoyable read.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.

“You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.”

I recently watched the “Young Catherine” movie with Julia Ormond and was intrigued to learn more about this enigmatic ruler. She came from a very small country where her father was a military man and her mother a minor noble. She was not beautiful but was definitely intelligent and willful.

The story of her life from nobody to Empress of Russia is interesting and I found it extremely moving. Her early years in Russia were stressful because when she married the Grand Duke Peter, she discovered he was very likely mentally ill and unstable. She knew she would eventually have to make a decision on Peter but for the most part put up with his eccentricities. There were many times in her life she had to defend her actions to the Empress Elizabeth, who must have known that this young woman was the savior of the Russian people.

Catherine was a very sexual person married to an unsexual man. She began taking lovers early on and was always happier with a man at her side. She was a very modern woman.

I enjoyed the life of this very complicated woman. She was at times very reasonable and reassuring to her people and other times very dictatorial and shrill. She tried to institute many laws to help codify the rules but met with various problems from the wealthy class.

I enjoyed this story and look forward to more works from this author.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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history for readers of romance novels

In this book we learn a great deal about Catherine's romances, anguish, unhappy moments, as well as her elegant wardrobe, but rather little about the political, diplomatic and social issues she faced and how she handled them.

19 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Insightful

I thoroughly enjoy historical books, especially pre 20th century. I had very little previous knowledge of Catherine the Great. I think this book provides an encompassing look into her life. Carolly Erickson references Catherine's personal memoirs as well as those of others intermixed with a bit of personal speculation. I would put her on level with Alison Weir in her ability to provide an enjoyable, insightful and informative listen/read. Davina Porter, as always, put forth a wonderful narration. She is one of my favorites.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Great telling of a great life story.

I think the author, Carolly Erickson, wrote an excellent bio of Catherine the Great. The empress had many admirable qualities and her share of royal quirks, but compared to most of those with whom she associated during her long life, she was a paragon of logic and common sense. I appreciated learning about her life in detail. The narrator of this audio book, Davina Porter, was outstanding. Her performance added tremendously to my listening experience. My only disappointment with the book as written was that I would have liked a brief summary of the eventual fate of Catherine's son and heir, as well as the outcomes for many who were significant to Catherine towards the end of her long life. The book ends immediately after Catherine's burial. But that is a small thing and not enough to prevent me from giving the story a 5 star review.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan Gaffney
  • 02-28-16

a truly dreadful book

boring, repetitive, reads like a collage of notes gathered from history books. The. reader: up jolly voice: oh here comes a happy bit: gloomy voice; oh, more misery.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Shane
  • 05-30-16

Good Biography

I'm not usually a fan of biographies but this one was exceptionally good. I think it is far more comprehensible to write a biography in someone who lived in pre-industrial times because you can tell a cohesive story without being completely superficial. Catherine was thus a great choice of topic and the execution of this book was spot on.