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Peter the Great: His Life and World (1980)

by Robert K. Massie

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2,762335,290 (4.34)85
Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

This superbly told story brings to life one of the most remarkable rulersand menin all of history and conveys the drama of his life and world. The Russia of Peter's birth was very different from the Russia his energy, genius, and ruthlessness shaped. Crowned co-Tsar as a child of ten, after witnessing bloody uprisings in the streets of Moscow, he would grow up propelled by an unquenchable curiosity, everywhere looking, asking, tinkering, and learning, fired by Western ideas. We see Peter in his twenties traveling "incognito" with his ambassadors to the courts of Europe; as the victorious soldier proclaimed Emperor; as the simple workman at his forge; and as the visionary statesman who single-handedly created a formidable world power. Impetuous and stubborn, bawdy and stern, relentless in his perseverance, he was capable of the greatest generosity and the greatest cruelty.

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
In the All-Russian contest “Name of Russia”, aimed to elect the most notable personality in Russian history by voting via the Internet, radio and television Peter I finished fifth. Ahead of another person who radically altered the destiny of Russia after him – Vladimir Lenin. The guy who brought here Christianity – Prince Vladimir I – and the guy responsible for the downfall of the USSR - Mikhail Gorbachev – didn’t even make it to Top 50 (though Boris Yeltsin did). This illustrates the importance of Peter’s figure even in contemporary Russia, 300 years after his untimely death.

This was my second book by R. Massie, first being a wonderful tome on Catherine II another of only three monarchs so styled since the establishment of tzardom in Russia in XV century. What I can surmise upon reading these two books – on Catherine and Peter – the author loved Russia. I would go even further proposing that he was a very pleasant person to be with. The way he depicts characters, no matter how repulsive their deeds are, normally doesn’t provoke rage or any other negative emotions. Probably you’d feel sorry and upset by person’s bad behavior. And if a person possesses some commendable traits or did something good, you’d end up his Facebook fan for life. Mr. Massie probably was adored by his students. He’s not only a great narrator, but a very savvy psychologist too.

Time and again you will run into some tangential figures main protagonist meets. Their names may sound remotely familiar, but all of us are a bit rusty on school history, aren’t we? Don’t panic, you’ll be provided with a brief, but yet sufficient enough description of a person, age, event, trade, country, etc…

While reading it, I simultaneously read and watched some Russian historians talking on Peter I. It looks like Mr. Massie covered every interesting story and fact of Tzar’s life. Bravo! His warmness to Russia still baffles me, if we factor in the time of writing – late 1970s – Cold War’s apogee! It’s as apolitical treatment of history as it should be. An example for all historians.

P.s. In spite of making it to top 5 Russia’s historical heroes public opinion on the Tzar is still divided.
  Den85 | Jan 3, 2024 |
My dad read this in the late 1980s or early 1990s and loved it, around the time of the TV miniseries (maybe a rerun, as 1986 seems too early, and I remember watching parts of it with him). Anyway, I gave it a try in the early 1990s, but was too young and undisciplined to finish it. On reading it now, at 43, I enjoyed it immensely. Massie is a good writer, I have read some of his other stuff, and this is one of those expansive life and times biography, big bricks of books, that are still quick and enjoyable to read. Peter the Great was an amazingly important ruler, wresting his country from backwards and eastern facing to modernizing and western facing. He is the reason Russia became a European power and then a world power. He was quite an interesting fellow, at one hand shunning the trappings of power and on the other hand being a dictatorial autocrat. On one hand working as a carpenter, on the other building a city of palaces on marshland. On one hand defeating the forces of Sweden and the Turks as a good strategist, and on the other almost losing it all on an ill-fated, bungling attempt to fight the Turks. In interesting biography and well worth the read. ( )
  tuckerresearch | May 1, 2023 |
If you are looking for an all-encompassing look at the life of Peter the Great and the world he inhabited, look no further. This book is massive. It is very well-researched and describes in great detail what life was like in Russia at Peter's court.

The book can get a bit heavy-handed, especially if you are not one for war and battles, which, takes up the vast majority of the book. You do get insights into the lives of Peter's opponents, which was fun. I wish the book had been a bit more detailed in his personal relationships with his family members. There are some that are touched on in just a few short sentences. However, more is known about their interactions.

This is not a casual read. You have to be ready. But, this is recommended if you are looking to broaden your horizons and read about one of history's greatest figures. ( )
  briandrewz | Sep 18, 2022 |
I enjoyed this biography, but about 400 pages of Peter the Great and his battles was enough. I didn't finish it. ( )
  gbelik | Jul 11, 2022 |
Na, ez a könyv pont annyira fantasztikus, mint amekkora. Massie szórakoztatóan és alaposan kivesézi nemcsak a kor Oroszországát, hanem úgy egyáltalán: a XVIII. század első harmadának Európáját szőröstül-bőröstül. Ebben segítségére van maga Péter cár is, aki megteszi neki azt a szívességet, hogy uralkodótól szokatlan módon bejárja a fél világot, ahová pedig nem jut el, azzal háborúba bonyolódik. Így Massie-nek alkalma nyílik bemutatni a korszak valamennyi fontosabb figuráját Orániai Vilmostól XII. Károly svéd uralkodón és legendás hadvezéren át magáig a Napkirályig*. Csupa színes, izgalmas alak kavarog e könyv lapjain, és még magyar vonatkozás is akad: egyrészt Rákóczi rövid vendégszereplése, másrészt az eszméletlen mennyiségű tokaji bor, amit Péter jóízűen elfogyaszt.

Amúgy meg ez a Péter egy nagy franc volt. Volt egy missziója, át akarta ráncigálni a Nagy Orosz Anyácskát keletről nyugatra, és ettől nem igazán hagyta magát elrettenteni. Éhen haltak a parasztok a sok hadiadó miatt? Ez van, ezt kell szeretni. Szentpétervár építésekor hullottak a munkások, mint a legyek? Hát most mit csináljon velük. Persze, csodás dolog, ha egy nagy formátumú uralkodó üldögél az ember feje felett, de az a helyzet, hogy a nagy formátumú uralkodókat általában utólag szokták szeretni. Közben nem feltétlenül. Persze meglehet, hogy ez az orosz néplélek, ez a keleti fatalizmus szinte kihívja ezt: hogy a dolgok ne folyamatukban fejlődjenek ki, kisebb-nagyobb döccenőkkel, hanem jöjjön egy diktátor, egy agyagbálvány véres mancsokkal, és a szakállánál fogva rángassa ki a népet a derítőgödörből. Vagy vissza az derítőgödörbe – mert ez is egy opció.

De nem akarok én túlságosan igazságtalan lenni Péterrel – bár talán megérdemelné. Amúgy egy igazán tündökletes, izgalmas személyiség volt, akinek tetterejét nehéz nem bámulni így háromszáz év távlatából, és alighanem nagyobb szíve és nyitottabb elméje volt, mint korabeli kollégáinak. Ő a maga részéről igazán jót akart – csak éppen abból a magasságból, ahol ő élt, talán alig tűntek nagyobbnak az emberek, mint a bolhák. Pláne hogy szemét folyton előre szegezte: a vágyott napnyugat felé. Ahol azóta is hiába várják őket.

* Na mondjuk vele Péter pont nem találkozott se civilben, se a hadszíntéren, de sebaj, az író ravaszul megoldja, hogy róla is rittyentsen egy bájos portrét. És jól teszi, a korszak másik legjelentősebb figuráját bűn lenne kihagyni egy ilyen apróság miatt. ( )
  Kuszma | Jul 2, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
The specialist cannot in good conscience recommend this book to fellow historians. Yet it would be misleading as well as unfair to leave it at that. For Massie's work strikes this reviewer as, at the same time, an outstanding example of that somewhat ambiguous literary genre known as popular (or commercial) history... A colorful, dramatic, at times gripping story is told here in fine detail and effortless prose.
 
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For Mary Kimball Todd and James Madison Todd

and in memory of Robert Kinloch Massie
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Around Moscow, the country rolls gently up from the rivers winding in silvery loops around the pleasant landscape.
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Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. HTML:

This superbly told story brings to life one of the most remarkable rulersand menin all of history and conveys the drama of his life and world. The Russia of Peter's birth was very different from the Russia his energy, genius, and ruthlessness shaped. Crowned co-Tsar as a child of ten, after witnessing bloody uprisings in the streets of Moscow, he would grow up propelled by an unquenchable curiosity, everywhere looking, asking, tinkering, and learning, fired by Western ideas. We see Peter in his twenties traveling "incognito" with his ambassadors to the courts of Europe; as the victorious soldier proclaimed Emperor; as the simple workman at his forge; and as the visionary statesman who single-handedly created a formidable world power. Impetuous and stubborn, bawdy and stern, relentless in his perseverance, he was capable of the greatest generosity and the greatest cruelty.

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