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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

by Robert K. Massie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Romanovs (2)

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2,2901304,918 (4.11)253
Presents a reconstruction of the eighteenth-century empress's life that covers her efforts to engage Russia in the cultural life of Europe, her creation of the Hermitage, and her numerous scandal-free romantic affairs.
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» See also 253 mentions

English (129)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (130)
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
This history is an involving listen on audiobook. Unfortunately only got through half of it but will return to it. ( )
  Okies | Mar 25, 2021 |
The book is always better than the TV show! :) A MUST read with tons of background history and incredible facts.

"Pulitzer Prize winner Massie offers the tale of a princess who went to Russia at 14 and became one of the most powerful women in history. Born into minor German nobility, she transformed herself into an empress by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant, curious mind, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and reaching the throne, tried using their principles to rule the vast, backward empire."

Good Reads.com ( )
  Kayla1318 | Mar 6, 2021 |
Catherine the Great is indisputably one of the greatest women Europe has ever produced. She ruled Russia as an enlightened monarch and spread the philosophy of its prior pro-European monarch Peter the Great. She created an intellectual culture in Russia that blossomed with talent like Dostoyevski, Tolstoy, and Tchaikovsky.

Ironically, she was not born a Russian but a German. Her marriage to a future king was a failure, but not due to her lack of trying. She spent years subjugated to another Russian monarch – Queen Elizabeth. Instead of being frustrated, Catherine spent her time reading books during the European Enlightenment from figures like Voltaire and Diderot. When time and chance converged and offered her a chance to rule, she seized the opportunity.

Despite these beneficial qualities, Catherine’s character presents itself not as an ideal figure but as a pragmatist. Although she was aware of their suffering (more than many monarchs could say), she did not free Russia’s serfs. She saw that serfs needed more than the Russian state could offer them at the time, in terms of education and economic opportunity. She also weathered the craziness of the French Revolution and held onto power like any good autocrat does. She joined in partitioning Poland in two and thus made a nation disappear. Nonetheless, she provided a culture for the arts and a movement towards integration with European intellectual and political life.

This cultural renewal is Catherine’s legacy. Massie, as a good biographer, gets out of the way and lets Catherine’s personality shine – even in her turbulent personal relationships. He provides much detail from personal letters of those around Catherine. He also does a good job of integrating her personal narrative in with world events. Overall, this is a nice portrait of a great lady. ( )
  scottjpearson | Jan 25, 2020 |
I knew near to nothing about Empress Catherine and decided to pick this up to learn something. Overall a good book, very informative especially if you are as naive as I am on the subject. I only downgrade it a bit because the author has a tendency to repeat large parts of the story from section to section, almost assuming that you hadn't read the previous sections. Maybe this is by design, as he possibly assumes that a history reader would only read the sections of interest at the time? Don't know. Catherine's period of enlightenment interesting enough was happening as Thomas Jefferson was writing the American Constitution. Interesting enough both Jefferson and Catherine had to deal with Slavery (Catherine's was serfdom) and in the end chose to do nothing about it, though it seemed both hated it. ( )
  rayski | Jan 13, 2020 |
I love history and historical characters but when I read about how bad some of the rich and entitled political figure had it. It makes me happy that I am poor and unnoticed.
  Joe73 | Oct 23, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 129 (next | show all)
Imperial biographer Robert K. Massie paints a satisfying portrait of Catherine the woman and Catherine the ruler, and her attempts to modernize and westernize Russia.
 
"Pulitzer Prize winner Massie offers the tale of a princess who went to Russia at 14 and became one of the most powerful women in history. Born into minor German nobility, she transformed herself into an empress by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant, curious mind, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and reaching the throne, tried using their principles to rule the vast, backward empire."
 

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert K. Massieprimary authorall editionscalculated
Deakins, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
"the best description of her is that she is a women as well as an empress." - The Earl of Buckinghamshire, British ambassador to Russia, 1762-65
Dedication
For Deborah.

And for Bob Loomis. Twenty-four years, four books. Thank you.
First words
Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst was hardly distinguishable in the swarm of obscure, penurious noblemen who cluttered the landscape and society of politically fragmented eighteenth-century German.
Quotations
Your Majesty may create me a field marshal, but I defy you or anyone to make even a tolerable captain out of me. - Alexis Razumovsky
You know who's daughter I am. Follow me! - Elizabeth to the Preobrazhensky Guardsmen
He allowed himself to be dethroned like a child being sent to bed. - Frederick the Great of Peter III
The bullet is a fool, the bayonet a brave lad. - Alexander Vasilyevich Suvorov
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Presents a reconstruction of the eighteenth-century empress's life that covers her efforts to engage Russia in the cultural life of Europe, her creation of the Hermitage, and her numerous scandal-free romantic affairs.

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Book description
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.

All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
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