Massie returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography--the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at 14 and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally ...
Massie returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography--the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at 14 and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
New. xiii, 625 p. : ill. (some col. ), maps; 25 cm. Hardcover and dust jacket. Fine binding and cover. Clean, unmarked pages. This narrative biography tells 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." Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies, all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her "favorites", the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement. Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, 2012.
I don't read a lot of biographies; I prefer well-researched historical fiction. However, this book was beautifully written and highly interesting to boot; I could scarcely put it down. I bought a copy for my mother and then went out and bought Massie's "Peter the Great," which I am currently reading. I highly recommend it.
Jun 5, 2014
Reads like a Historical Novel
Readable biography of an amazing woman. The first half is about her life growing up and moving to Russia. The second half is her life as Empress. A fascinating story.
Aug 16, 2012
Very readable biography of Catherine the Great
After hearing the author, Robert Massie, interviewed on Public Radio, I was determined to read this book about Catherine the Great. He used the letters and other writings of this remarkable woman to bring her to life for the reader. I think this is a highly-recommendable book.
Publishers Weekly, 2011-09-05 The Pulitzer-winning biographer of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great, Massie now relates the life of a minor German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796). She was related through her ambitious mother to notable European royalty; her husband-to-be, the Russian grand duke Peter, was the only living grandson of Peter the Great. As Massie relates, during her disastrous marriage to Peter, Catherine bore three children by three different lovers, and she and Peter were controlled by Peter's all-powerful aunt, Empress Elizabeth, who took physical possession of Catherine's firstborn, Paul. Six months into her husband's incompetent reign as Peter III, Catherine, 33, who had always believed herself superior to her husband, dethroned him, but probably did not plan his subsequent murder, though, Massie writes, a shadow of suspicion hung over her. Confident, cultured, and witty, Catherine avoided excesses of personal power and ruled as a benevolent despot. Magnifying the towering achievements of Peter the Great, she imported European culture into Russia, from philosophy to medicine, education, architecture, and art. Effectively utilizing Catherine's own memoirs, Massie once again delivers a masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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