Catherine the Great: Life and Legend
Catherine II of Russia is one of the most colorful characters in modern history. Born a minor German princess, she was betrothed to the Grand Duke ... Show synopsis Catherine II of Russia is one of the most colorful characters in modern history. Born a minor German princess, she was betrothed to the Grand Duke Peter of Russia at 15, through the designs of the childless Empress Elizabeth and her own scheming mother. By 33, she had overthrown her husband in a bloodless coup and established herself as Empress of the multinational Russian Empire, the largest territorial political unit in modern history. Portrayed variously as a political genius who restored to Russia the glory it had known in the days of Peter the Great and a despotic foreign adventuress who usurped the Russian throne, murdered her rivals, and tyrannized her subjects, she was, by all accounts, an extraordinary woman. Catherinethe Great, the first popular biography of the mpress based on modern scholarship, provides a vivid portrait of Catherine as a mother, a lover, and, above all, an extremely savvy ruler. Concentrating on her long reign (1762-96), John Alexander examines all aspects of Catherine's life and career: the brilliant political strategies by which she won the acceptance of a nationalistic elite; her expansive foreign policy; the domestic reforms with which she revamped the Russian military, political structure, and economy; and, of course, her infamous love life. Alexander begins with an account of the dramatic "palace revolt" by which Catherine unseated her husband and a background chapter describing the circumstances of her early childhood and marriage, then proceeds chronologically through the 34 years of reign. In compelling narrative fashion, he describes such events as the incursion of bubonic plague on Moscow, the uprising of the Ural peasants, and the six political murders the empress sanctioned. Catherine is presented here in more human terms than in previous biographies, with numerous quotations included from her reminiscences and notes. We learn, for instance, not only the names and number of her lovers, but her understanding of what many considered a shocking licentiousness. "The trouble is," she wrote, "that my heart would not willingly remain one hour without love." The result of 20 years' research by one of the leading narrative historians of modern Russia in the U.S., this is truly an impressive work. Alexander delved into little-known sources (including a collection of Catherine's love notes which is included here as an appendix) as well as popular and specialized accounts to arrive at this much-needed, balanced appraisal of one of history's most scandal-ridden figures.