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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

by Robert K. Massie

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Showing 1-5 of 110 (next | show all)
I read Nicholas and Alexandra in the early 70's and was so impressed with Mr Massie's writing and presentation that I signed up for Russian History in high school and college. To be able to read his biography of Catherine the great 45 years later was truly exciting. He allows his readers to get to know
Sophia/Catherine as a person and to understand her thinking and motivations. She was a brilliant forward thinking leader who over came her disfunctional families and tradition and became an enlightened ruler who changed the course of Russian and Eastern European history. ( )
  Joanne53 | May 19, 2016 |
I really, really enjoyed this book and recommend it to absolutely everyone. My only reservation in giving it five stars is that a few points dragged because of editing issues; Massie and his editor(s) should have recognized that there was a good deal of repetition - I would have cut many paragraphs from about the middle of the book on. Still, it was extremely educational and enlightening, particularly I think to a Westerner because we so seldom learn about Russia. ( )
  Kristin_Curdie_Cook | Apr 29, 2016 |
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Maise

★★ ½

I am surprised I got through this book. However, it took me over 4 weeks to finish this tome. I love biographies, regardless of length, and I really wanted to like this book but it was just too much for me. I was bored from the beginning. The book goes into TOO much detail. Do you really care that one of Catherine’s ladies in waiting had incontinence? Yeah, me neither. Besides the repetitiveness of most of the book, it seems like the author was trying extra hard to make this book extra long by putting extra boring information that made little difference in the scheme of things and I mean pages and pages of information. I couldn’t keep everyone straight and honestly, I could have cared less if I did or not. It was a jumbled mess to me after awhile. This book may be better titled “Catherine the Great: The Copying of her Diary and Letters. Oh, and Lovers.” What annoyed me is with the extent of stuff put into this book, it seems as if some major aspects are missing. For instance - she had more than one child, but except for passing, they are never mentioned again (except the one that would take her place on the throne). And you may be saying “perhaps there was no info on them.” No, research proves there is, including a child never even mentioned in this book.

With that in mind, there was some interesting tidbits in here. Catherine was a fascinating woman that went from minor nobility in a tiny province to the Duchess of Russia. She was darn good at what she did and her life is full of ups and downs. I do believe that this book would have been much better if it had been cut my half. Even for a major lover of history and biographies, it was too much for me. Which is too bad because I had such high hopes for this one.

It should be noted that I seem to be in the minority here. The book has fairly good rating. Perhaps I missed something.
( )
1 vote UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
Well researched, one of the best biographies I have read. ( )
  crazeedi73 | Jan 30, 2016 |
Well researched, one of the best biographies I have read. ( )
  crazeedi73 | Jan 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 110 (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.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert K. Massieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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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.… (more)

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