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Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power Hardcover – February 6, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0312328870 ISBN-10: 0312328877 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312328877
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312328870
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,053,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This lengthy biography of Russia's greatest female ruler is by no means as salacious as the subtitle suggests, but this sympathetic portrayal certainly focuses on Catherine's private life. British scholar Rounding (Les Grandes Horizontales) relies on memoirs, private letters and previous monographs as she details how, after dissolution of the unhappy marriage that brought Catherine (1729–1798) to Russia from Germany, the empress juggled her relationships with men as she attempted to thrust Russia into the modern era and make it a European power. Indeed, Rounding offers an intriguing (and partially convincing) thesis that Catherine was most effective as a ruler when she was satisfied in her private life. That life was never dull: Catherine's final lover was 40 years her junior, helping to give rise to wild but untrue rumors about her sexual appetite. Rounding's prose matches the excitement of its subject, with vivid portrayals of the late 18th-century Russian court and the machinations of Catherine and those around her. Readers looking for more scholarly and analytical treatments of Catherine's policies and Russia during this time might want to look at biographies by Isabel de Madariaga and John T. Alexander, but Rounding's work will appeal to Catherine-philes and those interested in women's history. 16 pages of color photos. (Feb.)
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“An engrossing bio . . . Is it possible Sofia Coppola picked the wrong historical heroine?” ---Entertainment Weekly (Grade: A)

“The book is so readable because it brings Catherine alive, and not least in her relations with the men she drew to her side.” ---Foreign Affairs

“An attractive account of the reign of a most remarkable woman . . . Strongly recommended.” ---Library Journal

“A great thumping triumph of a book.” ---London Telegraph (UK)

More About the Author

Virginia Rounding is an author and book critic, specialising in history and biography. Her most recent book, published in the USA and the UK this year, is a fresh examination of the lives of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia: Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina. A reviewer commented in the Washington Times: 'she has brought them to life in flesh and blood perhaps better than any previous writer on the subject. This is partly a result of her skill in rooting out and quoting commentary on them by those who knew them well and put their impressions down in letters and diaries. But she has a knack for building on these insights with her own, and so has produced a more rounded portrait than we have ever had before.'

Virginia's previous book was a biography of the Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power, 2006, described in the Daily Telegraph as 'a thumping great triumph of a book'), and she recently presented a programme for BBC Radio 3 about music and musicians at Catherine's court. Catherine the Great was preceded by a study of French courtesans (Grandes Horizontales, 2003, in the Independent as 'impeccably researched, a flirt of a book, enjoyable and sexy').

Virginia is also the joint author, with Martin Dudley, of a series of books on church administration, and she reviews widely for a variety of newspapers and magazines, including the Daily Telegraph, FT Magazine, Independent, Daily Mail and Moscow Times. She lives in the Hoxton area of London and is an elected councillor (known as a Common Councilman) for the Ward of Farringdon Within in the City of London.

In addition to being a writer, Virginia has had a variety of jobs in order to keep body and soul together. She is currently part-time Clerk to the Guild of Public Relations Practitioners, and was for many years administrator of The Consort of Musicke, a vocal and instrument ensemble specialising in English and Italian music of the Renaissance. She has recently set up a writing consultancy, specialising in assisting post-graduate students with their writing of dissertations and theses, having enormously enjoyed her time doing precisely this as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art from 2008 to 2011.

She was educated at Merchant Taylors' School for Girls, Great Crosby, and at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London.

Customer Reviews

I recommend it for anyone interested in history.
Edmund Muzzy
This is a well researched book on a subject that provides a balanced look at Catherine, chronicling her strengths as well as her weaknesses.
John Matlock
One of those books I could not put down and wish it never ended at the same time.
Janette Vanderpool

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Huston on March 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's one of those surprises of history that one of Russia's most effective rulers was a woman, and not Russian at all. The Russian Empire after the death of Peter the Great in the early eighteenth century became a 'winner-take-all, free-for-all' between various descendants of his. By the time that the daughter of Peter, Elizabeth Petrovna, seized power and imprisoned the infant Ivan VI in a remote fortress, there were only two claimants to the Romanov crown left -- herself, and her nephew, a teenager named Peter. Clearly, the best solution to further palace coups and possible uprisings was to establish a clear line of succession.

A bride must be found and as quickly as possible. A Roman Catholic would not be acceptable, but a German Protestant princess who would not mind converting to Russian Orthodoxy just might work. And for one princess in particular, Empress Elizabeth had a soft-spot in her heart. Once, Elizabeth had been engaged to a German prince, but when he had died, the marriage did not happen. This princeling, however, had a sister -- Johanna, who in turn married the prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, and she had a daughter who was just a year younger than Grand Duke Peter.

Sophie Fredericka Auguste was a lively, intelligent teenager when she arrived in Russia with her mother for a closer look by the Empress. She wasn't exactly pretty, but she had a pair of beautiful dark blue eyes, a quick mind, and a willingness to please. Both the Empress and the Grand Duke liked what they saw, and after some careful negotiations, Sophie converted to Orthodoxy, and became Catherine Alexeyevna, and married Peter.
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35 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The confluence of sex and power politics goes back at least to ancient Egypt. It is doubtful, however, that it was ever practiced more openly or with more decisive results than during the reign of Catherine II (Catherine the Great) over the Russian empire.

In this book Virginia Rounding has tried gamely to balance the two forces by concentrating on Catherine herself and the small army of friends and foes who surrounded her during her reign from 1762 until her death in 1796. It is a long and complex story, told here in exhaustive detail. Rounding freely admits that history has yet to reach a final consensus on Catherine. She lays out the evidence for 500-plus pages, concluding rather tentatively in her very last sentence that her subject does indeed deserve the honorific "Great." But it is, as Britisher Rounding might say, a near thing.

On the plus side, Catherine was a shrewd and resourceful ruler who introduced badly needed reforms into her empire's governmental structure and educational system. She fostered the arts as one of history's great collectors of paintings. She introduced the practice of inoculation against disease into Russian medical practice, corresponded with Voltaire and had the French encyclopediste philosopher Denis Diderot as one of her conversational partners. She had an enlightened attitude on the need to keep religion and politics separate. She was a wit, a fine writer and a canny judge of character. Her subjects in general loved her, and those who did not had the good sense to watch their backs.

But behind all this there lay a compulsive sexual adventurer, unfaithful wife and shameless player of boudoir politics. Rounding lists a round dozen of men who served successively (and openly) as her "favorites.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on February 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
One of the more interesting characters in history, Catherine engineered a coup in 1762 that put her on the throne of Russia as she replaced her husband. From here she would rule Russia until her death, 34 years later. Her political accomplishments during those years are spactacular: wars fought and won, reorienting Russia from Asia to Europe, extending Russia's borders, expanding education and the arts.

At the same time her bedroom exploits became legendary around Europe. She had a succession of lovers that also seemed to serve as political advisors. It seems that these lovers were selected by Catherine based on the recommendations of members of the court. It is important to remember that this was a time when in most of the world women were basically considered chattels.

This is a well researched book on a subject that provides a balanced look at Catherine, chronicling her strengths as well as her weaknesses. Her conclusion is that the soubriquet 'the Great' is justified.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith on June 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
Empress Catherine II, usually referred to as Catherine the Great, was one of the most fascinating figures of power in Europe. Born Sophie Frederica Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729, she was Empress of All the Russias from 1759 until her death in 1796.

Ms Rounding has provided a biography of Catherine which, while it is based on the person, covers the history and politics as well.

So, who was Catherine and how did a relatively minor princess who was not even Russian born become the longest reigning monarch in Russian imperial history?

This is a fascinating study in power and politics as well as a personal journey through the life of one of the most intriguing women documented in history. Catherine herself was a complex character: a tireless legislator; a generous patron of philosophers (including men such as Denis Diderot and Voltaire); and an art collector (her systematic acquisition formed the basis of the great `Hermitage' collection). Catherine was a dutiful daughter, a domineering mother and an indulgent grandmother. Catherine was also a prodigious writer, and it is largely through her writings that Ms Rounding has compiled this biography.

This book is not hagiographic. Although Ms Rounding is sympathetic to Catherine, she does not ignore the retinue of lovers, the intrigues and the rumours. If you are interested in this specific period of history, or in studies of female rulers, I recommend this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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