Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by…

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (edition 2012)

by Robert K. Massie

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,4031005,401 (4.16)194
Title:Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Authors:Robert K. Massie
Info:Random House Trade Paperbacks (2012), Paperback, 672 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:History, Biography, Russia

Work details

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 194 mentions

English (100)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (101)
Showing 1-5 of 100 (next | show all)
There is little I can say about this perfect biography in which Massie brings to life a vibrant, intelligent, and warm world leader who arrives as a young teenager to initially become the supporting wife and "breeder" of sons to Peter III of Russia but who becomes through well played political ambition the greatest royal ruler in Russian history, surpassing, IMO, her husband's grandfather, Peter the Great.

There is little to say about this biography without sounding effusive. Massie, more than any historical biographer I have read renders his subject as a vital force who lives on the page and seems to exist just around the corner if one could only move a little faster and catch her. For digestible Russian history during the Age of Enlightenment, for political machination that almost puts the Borgias in the shade, and for a cavalcade of exciting figures from French salons, Russian armies, and British embassies, not to mention the kith, kin, and court, Massie's work is unequaled in its brilliance.

I remember reading his dual biography of Nicholas and Alexandra decades ago and experiencing the same sensation of being in the near-physical presence of people long dead but resurrected in highly readable prose.

No reader will suffer in reading this biography of a truly remarkable woman and most capable empress who ruled millions of people who lived in the largest empire in Europe and tried with all her being to mold country and subjects into a flower of civil and wise government. ( )
  Limelite | Oct 25, 2015 |
A satisfying if not perfect biography. ( )
1 vote carterchristian1 | Jul 25, 2015 |
A little hard to read in the way it was written. And slow going. ( )
  bandpmom | Jun 5, 2015 |
My wife bought this for me a while ago (Chrismas '11, Father's Day '12...?) and I finally read it in November of 2012. Unfortunately the Deckle Edge Hardcover is of extremely low quality. Until this morning, the book was on a shelf behind a glass door in its dust jacket. When I removed the dust jacket and examined the book this morning, I saw nothing untoward. I'm only on page 54 and the binding along the joint, hinge, and spine is now severely cracked. This isn't the normal spiderwebbing along the spine of a well-used paperback. Somehow the material is very brittle and the joint and hinge are cracking like a hardboiled eggshell. As soon as I opened it, I thought, "What are those weird sounds?" Finally, I looked at the spine and found the joints to be severely cracked and the bottom of the spine is almost completely broken (not torn) off along the folded inner seam. I've had the book too long to return it, which sucks, but this warning is out for future buyers.

In any case, buy the paperback or another edition.

The reason I wanted to read about Catherine was her role in creating the Pale of Settlement and the context in which this came to be. Catherine began the systematic policy of oppression known as the Pale of Settlement after absorbing large Jewish communities during the 3 partitions of Poland.

Massie spends pages discussing minor details and gossip, but there isn't a single word mentioning the Pale. Nothing. This is like discussing Andrew Jackson without mentioning Indians or World War 2 without mentioning... Jews. It is a SIGNIFICANT EVENT in world history. Most of Catherine's other policies' effects faded with time. None of her conquests even belong to Russia anymore. However, the Pale's direct repercussions grow stronger as time progresses. This included the later pogroms, the eventual radicalizing of large numbers of the eastern Jews, the growth of Zionism, the mass immigration of Jews to America, the Holocaust, and the current state of the Middle East which is still creating larger disturbances.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book, but omitting so significant an historical event brings doubts to the overall partiality. ( )
  Hae-Yu | May 18, 2015 |
It seems like it's probably difficult to humanize a larger-than-life historical figure like Catherine the Great without either giving in to rumors and gossip, or practically deifying her. The author here manages it, though. Catherine was born a princess to a minor German principality, and probably wouldn't have made any big waves in history if not for the fact that Russia desperately needed a bride for the heir to their throne, and he had also been raised in Germany. At 14, Catherine (then Sophie) was trundled off to Russia to meet her future husband, Peter. She agreed to convert to Eastern Orthodox and the rest, as they say, was history.

Her practicality in dealing with a husband who was childish in the extreme was partially a self-preservation mechanism and partially a manifestation of her own ambition to sit on the throne one day. By the time the title of Emperor eventually fell to Peter, it was clear that he was not the ruler Russia wanted or needed, and Catherine took over. It was quite a bold act for a woman, and for a German one who had no direct claim to power at that. She had become Russian, though, spending long years learning the language and attitudes of her adopted country. One of Peter's many failings was his insistence on remaining German. Catherine was mother to the heir (Paul, officially although questionably Peter's son), but she ruled as Empress outright rather than as regent.

Most interesting to me were her early years, when she showed a level of poise and self-assurance that is hard to fathom, up to the early part of her reign. As she became settled in her position and was looking to the future, wondering who was capable of taking over for her, I found the writing (or perhaps just the story) got a little stagnant. Overall, though, I really enjoyed how the author showed Catherine's humanity, including her need to have a romantic relationship at all times and her willingness to laugh and have fun, without taking anything away from the force that she was in power. ( )
  ursula | Jan 16, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (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.

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Robert K. Massieprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deakins, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
"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
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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (3)

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.
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 5 descriptions

Quick Links

Swap Ebooks Audio
52 wanted2 pay3 pay

Popular covers


Average: (4.16)
0.5 1
1 1
2 2
2.5 1
3 40
3.5 16
4 126
4.5 34
5 94


2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

See editions

LibraryThing Early Reviewers Alumn

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie was made available through LibraryThing Early Reviewers. Sign up to possibly get pre-publication copies of books.

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


Help/FAQs | About | Privacy/Terms | Blog | Store | Contact | LibraryThing.com | APIs | WikiThing | Common Knowledge | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | 100,884,046 books! | Top bar: Always visible