Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Portrait of A Woman

Book - 2012
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Presents a reconstruction of the eighteenth-century empress's life that covers her efforts to engage Russia in the cultural life of Europe, her creation of the Hermitage, and her numerous scandal-free romantic affairs.
Edition: 1st Random House Trade Paperback ed.
ISBN: 9780345408778
Branch Call Number: DK170 .M34 2012
Characteristics: xiii, 639 p. ill. (some col.), maps 24 cm.


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May 24, 2020

As someone who knows absolutely nothing about Russian history, I have long wanted to read but also been intimated by this book. However, it turned out my worries were unwarranted, as this work is clearly meant for English speakers who may or may not have difficulty with foreign names. 😂⁣

The biography begins with Catherine’s early years. A minor German princess, Catherine suffers from parental detachment and neglect, but grows up to be both diligent and intelligent. She marries the silly tsar-to-be, Peter, but their marriage never blossoms and her husband begins to have blatant affairs. Disheartened, she escapes her humiliation through reading. ⁣

Catherine becomes known for her intellect and wisdom, and as Peter increasingly leans on her for advice and yet simultaneously threatens to divorce her for another woman, she begins to plan her own path to the throne. ⁣

Little does Catherine know that she would eventually become one of the greatest European monarchs, steer her country through various wars, expand her landscape, and become a patron of arts and philosophy. True, the years of neglect make her both greedy for love and distant with her own children, but it does not eradicate her ambition, intellect, and tenacity. ⁣

The book draws much of its information from primary sources such as letters and memoirs and has a great mixture of politics, history, philosophy and gossip. It has also consistently retained my attention despite its length. I sometimes have trouble following nonfictions on audio, but this one has turned out perfectly!

For more book and movie reviews, visit me on Instagram @ RandomStuffIRead :)

Jul 31, 2018

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.

Dec 13, 2017

"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!

Ghettostone Publications, Editor/Chief

PimaLib_JessicaP Feb 01, 2016

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.

tiktok Jan 23, 2016

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.

Dec 07, 2015

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.

May 11, 2015

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.

Apr 20, 2015

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).

Dec 04, 2014

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!

Jul 20, 2014

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.

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