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I love Robert K. Massie’s biographical writing style, which is colorful, superbly researched and makes for a bio that’s exciting to read. His book, Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman, is enriched with details of a young German princess who, upon receipt of an invitation from Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, ventures to Russia with little idea of where (literally and figuratively) her life is heading.
It’s a factual and adventurous story that reveals the myriad ways in which her intelligence, political cunning and enlightened views significantly impacted Russia’s power—both within its borders and throughout Europe.
"Catherine The Great" bedazzelled jewlery, custom made high fashion, extravegant foods and visual descriptions that bends the imagination. This is the historical account of a fairy tale rise of a young girl ripped from home, given a new name, and put on a path to absolute power! "Catherine The Great" gives an inside look at Russia's elaborate Royal Court during the peak of it's influence around the world! The book "Catherine The Great" is not my normal fare of reading but the ladies in my book club insisted on it and WOW I'm glad they did. The story of a young girl educated by the Queen's Court of administrators and warlords. Married as a pre-teen to an anti-social, psycho-path as part of a political strategy, young Catherine becomes Queen in the midst of betrayal organized by her husband who wages war against Russia and her, talk about a bad marriage. This descritpively stunning book stand as a defenitive master work of literature, art and history! A joy to read! I would highly recommend this book!
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I had no idea.
Honestly, though I know I had to have learned about her at some point, there is SO MUCH I just didn't know about her, not just the secret pre-reign stuff, but her propulsion of artistic holdings in the royal Russian treasury and her humanist leanings. The writing was excellent (thus the Carnegie Medal, I guess). There were times when I would drift a little, but for the most part I was delighted with this book.
As one other reviewer stated this is a read with a lot of detail. Unfortunately I didn't have the patience to get all the way through it. Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent true story but maybe I can approach it some other time.
Fantastic read. This book took more focus for me to read because I had to keep track of foreign names, and there are a ton! It was great to have some context, as her reign and life was during the Enlightenment movement, and intersects with the birth of the United States. I learned so much about Russia's relation to the U.S., the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, and Poland's history. It would have been interesting to see if she had any conflicts with the Asian countries Russia boarders. There is no mention such nations.
Needs a family tree and a full map of Russia and surrounding countries of the time. The chapters on the French Revolution didn't seem to belong. Otherwise, a very interesting book.
I started this book knowing approximately nothing about Catherine II, and now thanks to it I know a lot about her. I appreciated the mix of information about political and foreign affairs as well as personal details about the daily lives, fears, and aspirations of the main players. It isn't just a book about empresses, kings, and princes, it is also a book about people.
So, why not five stars? There are a couple of reasons:
1) Typos! I hope this has been mostly fixed in later editions but the edition I read had enough typos that it became distracting. It's a long book, but surely someone could have read through it once to make sure everybody's name was spelled correctly?
2) No family trees. There are several maps, but no family trees, and in a book about European royalty I consider this a must. Everybody is marrying everyone else and having kids with so-and-so's sister's' aunt's cousin, and it gets confusing.
3) Tangential information. There is a whole chapter about the horrors of the French Revolution, which I guess is needed for context to explain Catherine's subsequent reactions, but you know what I didn't need to read? A page and a half about whether the head remains alive after being guillotined.
4) It really burned my waffles that Massie effectively blamed Catherine for how Peter III treated her in their marriage. He attributes their falling out to her less-than-thrilled reaction to seeing Peter scarred and disfigured after a bout with smallpox. Massie says that in that moment, Catherine failed him. Puh-lease. First of all, she's a teenager at the time, so cut her some slack. Second of all, since when does that justify not having sex for nine years and constantly belittling someone? There was a lot more going on in that marriage than just that one episode; Massie describes all these problems, but still comes back to that episode as a causative factor, when really, the problem is Peter needed to get over himself (and maybe stop playing with toy soldiers so darn much).
Massie writes about Catherine as if she were a Kardashian. Though her life is well-known to history, Massie invites the reader into a world filled with lust, power, and intrigue that will have you flipping pages faster than a James Patterson novel. If all history were this accessible, I would read nothing else!
Well written and arranged. May be more detailed than the casual reader wants - even side characters get bios, and the guillotine is debated - but I enjoyed its thoroughness.
I'm going to have to disagree with some of my fellow commentators; if you approach the book with a great deal of historical Russia knowledge, perhaps this will seem shallow to you. But the book is called "CATHERINE the Great," not "RUSSIA the Great," and I think it provided a perfect amount of context needed to understand Catherine, her reign and her court. Additionally, while rumors and anecdotes ARE mentioned, they are not cited as authentic; it is made quite plain and transparent that what is being relayed to the reader IS a rumor or an anecdote, sometimes even multiple explanations for the same event are given with the disclaimer that the truth is not definitively known.
If you like historical fiction but generally shy away from historical non-fiction, this is an excellent crossover/gateway book. While it is a lengthy volume, it never gets droll or feels like you're reading a textbook; Massie tells a story, and doesn't just relay academic research and facts. I found it fascinating.
I found this book as enjoyable as Nicholas and Alexandria. The first 3/4 was certainly engrossing, the latter 1/4 was less well organized and felt rushed. However, if you enjoy historical fiction, I doubt you will be disappointed with this book.
A very enjoyable read. Massie brings the people in all the European families to life with a down to earth style that makes you want to read on. Having visited St. Petersburg, it was easy to envision some of the places that are mentioned in the book.
Massie writes such readable history. I wanted to read his ?Catherine? book because I liked his portrait in 2000 of Nicholas and Alexandra, the last Russian tsar and his wife. Catherine?s life in Russia and her determination to bring enlightened principles to her people made her unusual in her time.
I have read other biographies of her but my interest in this one waned only near the end. Massie gives you lots of context to not only understand her and her country, but the background of what was happening throughout Europe. It is context that helps you understand what led to some of her decisions, but sometimes seemed just a little extraneous to Catherine.
Another great biography from Massie.