The lack of horses in this biography was incredibly disappointing. The only thing I knew about Catherine the Great before reading this biography turned out to be fake. Ugh, I guess I will settle for Empress Catherine having her non-horse lover strangle her husband. After reading the part of this biography that featured Catherine’s despicable ex-husband Emperor Peter III, my only surprise is that she didn’t murder him earlier. If I was married to him, I would have taken the horse to bed.
More important than husbands and horses, was Catherine’s relationship with the enlightenment thinkers. Robert Massie depicts Empress Catherine as an enlightened monarch/ philosopher-queen. Catherine wanted to show the rest of the World that Russia was not a “culturally backward state” but rather was slowing evolving to become an enlightened European nation.
Catherine was friends with Voltaire and began writing to him soon after she took the throne. At first Voltaire was unsure about this relationship, but began to see the benefits of having, “an enlightened monarch who might work to apply the principles of justice and tolerance that he proclaimed.” Catherine modernized the Russian legal code; she was able to outlaw the use of torture to force a confession but failed to destroy the institution of serfdom. Catherine believed that no man should have ownership over another but was unable to convince the rest of the Russian nobility of this fact and she did not know what to do with the serfs once they were freed.
I was very intrigued by her conversations with Voltaire about government. They both agreed that “Men are rarely worthy of governing themselves” and that “Monarchy was the only rational form of government, provided the monarch was enlightened.” I am too much of an optimistic idealist to agree with any of these statements, but they are interesting points about the flaws of democracy.
Catherine’s love affair with French enlightenment thinkers took a sharp turn when Louis XVI’s head was separated from the rest of his body, so unfortunately, we will have to wait another century for a revolution in Russia. Huzzah!!!
“[A] tale of power, perseverance and passion . . . a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.”—The Wall Street Journal 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 German princess who became 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. 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. Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
“[A] compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman.”—Newsweek “An absorbing, satisfying biography.”—Los Angeles Times
“Juicy and suspenseful.”—The New York Times Book Review “A great life, indeed, and irresistibly told.”—Salon NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times • The Washington Post • USA Today • The Boston Globe • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Newsweek/The Daily Beast• Salon • Vogue • St. Louis Post-Dispatch • The Providence Journal • Washington Examiner • South Florida Sun-Sentinel • BookPage • Bookreporter • Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Robert K. Massie was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and studied American history at Yale and European history at Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He was president of the Authors Guild from 1987 to 1991. His previous books include Nicholas and Alexandra, Peter the Great: His Life and World (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for biography), The Romanovs: The Final Chapter,Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, and Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.
“Gripping.”—The New York Times Book Review “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman has it all: jealous mothers, indulgent eccentrics, greedy social climbers, intrigue, infidelity, murder, political coups, sex, war and passion.”—Bookreporter
“Exhaustively researched and dramatically narrated.”—The Boston Globe “[Robert K. Massie] brings great authority to this sweeping account of Catherine and her times. . . . a compelling read.”—The Washington Post “Meticulously, dramatically rendered.”—O: The Oprah Magazine “Reads like an epic Russian novel.”—San Antonio Express-News “Will transport history lovers.”—People
“Massie makes Catherine’s story dramatic and immediate.”—The Kansas City Star “Graceful and engrossing.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A biography as captivating as its subject.”—MacLean’s