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Catherine the Great & Potemkin: The Imperial…

Catherine the Great & Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair (original 2000; edition 2016)

by Simon Sebag Montefiore (Author)

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285757,204 (4.11)15
Title:Catherine the Great & Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair
Authors:Simon Sebag Montefiore (Author)
Info:Vintage (2016), 688 pages
Collections:Rob, Currently reading
Tags:Catherine the Great; Potemkin; Russia; history; Crimea; St Petersburg; Europe; biography

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Catherine the Great and Potemkin by Simon Sebag Montefiore (2000)



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» See also 15 mentions

English (5)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (7)
Showing 5 of 5
This is a fantastically long book about a couple of people in the 18th century that I had not heard of, other than that I had heard of someone called Catherine the Great. I'm embarrassed that when I visited St Petersburg some years ago I did not recognize the fingerprints of this remarkable lady and her equally (or more) remarkable husband.
Catherine and Prince Potemkin were in the thick of all the political events in the second half of the 1700s. They, especially Potemkin, prosecuted the wars against the Ottomans in the southern reaches of Russia. I makes me wonder if what happened then still affects current events. Was Vladimir Putin merely taking back what was Russia's when he annexed Crimea? (I realise that the Ukrainians believe Potemkin's leadership joined Crimea to Ukraine, not Russia.) Similarly, one sees the seeds of the conflict between Russia (Stalin) and Germany (Hitler) in 18th century tensions and wars between Russia, and Prussia, the Hapsburgs, Poland and Austria.

However, this book is much more than just dry history. It reveals the social history of the top-end of Russian (and European) society. Potemkin may have been (read: was) an extreme example of someone who lived this life, but it's fun and instructive to read. I'm no scholar of Russia history, but I understand that this extreme lifestyle of the Romanovs kindled the revolution some 150-100 years later. This is despite Potemkins apparent kindness and compassion, also for the serfs.

The author appears to have made some remarkable discoveries when searching the records and archives. He seems to have set straight the accepted story that Potemkin was all show and no substance. The book presents the case that Potemkin was one of the most influential people in modern history.

Prepare yourself for reading about lots of things you do not need to know about and will forget; but also prepare yourself to learn a lot more.

One regret - it seems it was first published with colour photos; by paperback version had only low quality black and white photos. ( )
  robeik | Jul 11, 2018 |
Although very interesting and offering a new perspective on Potemkin I found the book slightly disappointing. The story of Catherine and Potemkin could have been told in 300 pages instead the five hundred of this book.
To my taste too often words like “probably”, “surely”, “undoubtedly” are used. Two other examples of this style: a document “almost smelling of gunpowder” (how does something almost smell?) and “the first truly democratic parliament in Russian history until 1991” (still the first even after 1991). ( )
  Hiensch | Jul 22, 2016 |
Brilliant biography of two giants of Russian history. Only too often it is seen that many leaders have intensely troubled domestic lives, but these two are the glimmering exceptions. Montefiore has taken this story out of the relative backwaters of history and made it shine again. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
Meticulously researched and absorbingly written, this is a truly excellent biography of the man who was a real power behind the Russian imperial throne in the late eighteenth century—Prince Grigory Potemkin, lover of Catherine the Great and the man who commanded her armies towards military glory. Much of Sebag Monetefiore's research uses sources not previously known to scholarship in general, not just English-language scholarship. Such a wealth of information does lead to the book feeling a little over-populated at times, a little intimidating for the reader who doesn't have a strong background in the history of the era and the author does have a tendency to go off on tangents about some of the (admittedly fascinating in their own writes) people with whom Potemkin and Catherine were in contact throughout their lives. A little more editing would have helped, but one cannot doubt Sebag Montefiore's intellectual rigour, thoroughness and enthusiasm. Absolutely worth reading if you have any interest in Russian history, or in an example of a biography well done. ( )
  siriaeve | Jul 7, 2008 |
Who was Potemkin? Most readers from Eastern Europe might have heard about him.
If you studied Modern History then you might have heard about him too.
This leaves lots of people that have never heard about Potemkin. This biography makes it worth to know more about that rather eccentric individual that co-ruled Russia during the late 1700's.

Simon Sebag Montefiore studied History at Cambridge (UK) and therefore learned how to be careful with sources.

He travelled a lot during the 1990's in the previous Soviet Union, especially Ukraine, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Moreover, he searched in Archives in Eastern Europe and gives a select bibliography (pages 569-594). He managed to use primary sources and was careful enough to compare documents about Potemkin, instead of what his political or personal enemies wrote about him. All this has the effect of making this biography more reliable. We get also some maps page 560 and geneological charts of Potemkin and Catherine II.

Chapter 22 gives a description of a typical day in the life of Potemkin. That chapter can be quite amusing, but at the same time describes the life among the elites in St. Petersburg (then capital of the Russian Empire) during the late 1700's. It also describes him as not only tall and handsome, but as a clever politician.

This biography made me know, not only what his friends and lovers wrote about him, but also what his enemies wrote, including lies and biased texts about Potemkin.

Prince Potemkin (from a Polish noble family) and Empress Catherine II (princess from Germany) were not ethnic Russians, but expanded their empire more any other czar since Peter. Several sources describe Prince Potemkin as the secret husband of Empress Catherine II.
S.S. Montefiore was careful enough about this subject, because there are letters and all kinds of messages that signal that they married in secret and behaved like many other rich and powerful couples of the 1700's.

There are also some amusing stories as in page 128 about a possible cast of Potemkin's member found in Hermitage or in page 193 about Russian nurses that "make a constant practice of pulling it when the child is young".

It is typical in many biographies that one ends up describing a person as a hero, saint, martyr or genius. This happened to a certain extent in the later chapters of this biography and made me slightly skeptical. What Prince Potemkin achieved was remarkable both as a secret husband and a kind of co-czar that expanded Russia to the west and the Black sea.
However, he was often described as a victim of slender, envy, lies and evil, especially Frederick William of Prussia and czarevich Paul. in fact, all of them had to put up with that.

On the whole, I can say that this is a biography that afterwards makes you wish to visit all those places in Eastern Europe, like St. Petersburg, Smolensk, Kherson, Odessa and Crimea.
This biography makes you see why Mick Jagger got some satisfaction from reading this biography and called it "a rather wonderful book". ( )
  Paal | Dec 21, 2007 |
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Kort före tolvslaget den 5 oktober 1791 stannade det långsamma följet av vagnar, som åtföljdes av livréklädda betjänter och en skvadron kosacker klädda i Svartahavshordens uniform, halvvägs längs en landsväg vid en ödslig kulle mitt på den bessarabiska stäppen.
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Also published as "Potemkin: Catherine the Great's Imperial Partner" and
"Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin". The author's own website lists it under the title of "Catherine the Great and Potemkin" and so that is set as the canonical title.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312278152, Hardcover)

Prince Grigory Potemkin was Catherine the Great's lover, secret husband, and partner in ruling the Russian Empire. Their affair was so tumultuous, they negotiated an arrangement that allowed them to share power while he was free to love his beautiful nieces, and Catherine, her favorites. But they never stopped loving each other. Their endearing and passionate relationship remains one of history's most remarkable love affairs.

Potemkin shone as an outstandingly gifted statesman, winning the Crimea, founding the Black Sea Fleet, reforming the Cossacks, planning new cities like Sebastopol and Odessa, and making Russia a Near Eastern power - achievements in war and peace that emulated his hero Peter the Great.

He embodied the strengths and weaknesses of Russia itself - volatile, ebullient, handsome, sensual, and always astonishing. His bizarre magnificence enchanted and scandalized Europe. Yet he disdained his own success.

He was surrounded by a cosmopolitan court that included brilliant Americans, such as Admiral John Paul Jones, and Lewis Littlepage, a friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Both served under Potemkin against the Turks.

An obsessive Anglophile, he commissioned Joshua Reynolds and created an English garden wherever he stopped for the night. In 1787, this master showman presided over Catherine's Crimean river-tour, so sumptuous it was compared to Cleopatra's progress. Potemkin's enemies claimed he displayed fake houses - "Potemkin villages" - a smear this biography lays to rest.

After five years' new research in archives from Petersburg to Odessa, Sebag Montefiore shoes how Potemkin and Catherine, with their younger lovers, created their own "family." He brings blazingly to life Potemkin's loving partnership with Catherine and restores him to his place as a colossus of the eighteenth century. When he died, Catherine was heartbroken. She said there could never be another Potemkin.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:49 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

This volume about the life of Potemkin is about power, lust and love. As a soldier and politician, it looks at how his legacy was to secure the boundaries of Russia to the south that we know today. It brings to life his love for Catherine the Great.

(summary from another edition)

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