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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: Once upon a time, there was a minor German princess named Sophia. In 1744, at the age of 14, she was taken by her ambitious mother--removed from her family, her religion, and her country--to a foreign land with a single goal: marry a prince and bear him an heir. Once in Russia, she changed her name, learned the language, and went on to become the world's richest and most powerful woman, ruler of its then-largest empire. She is remembered as Catherine the Great.
There may be no better author than Robert K. Massie to take on the daunting task of documenting this most rare of human lives. Massie, a former president of the Authors Guild, is a seasoned biographer of the 400-year Romanov dynasty, most notably with Peter the Great: His Life and World, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and remains one of the most arresting biographies I've even encountered.
In his page-turning chronicle of Catherine II, Massie (now 82) compiles the most complete and compelling narrative to date of this singular woman. Married to an incompetent man-child who was unwilling or unable to help her fulfill her primary role--giving birth to a son--she ultimately grew to become a trailblazer among monarchs: friend of philosophical giants, incomparable patron of the arts, prosecutor of multiple wars, pioneer of public health, maker of kings, and prodigious serial lover.
Indeed, her accomplishments and shortcomings as an autocrat and a woman make for a remarkable saga, but that's not to say that just any author could do justice to Catherine's lasting legacy. (Many have tried.) Massie situates Catherine's early life and three-decade reign as empress amidst the tumult of the European Enlightenment, enriching his own narrative with telling excerpts of her letters and rich discussions of her political environment and personal motivations.
Put simply, Massie is just the man to take this endlessly fascinating life and craft an utterly memorable book. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is a towering accomplishment, one of the year's best books in any genre. --Jason Kirk
The imperial coronation crown designed for Catherine. The crown was used in all six of the Romanov coronations that followed.
Catherine's coronation portrait. She is wearing her new imperial crown.
Paul, Catherine's son, in one of the Prussian uniforms he delighted in wearing.
Portrait of Peter III
Gregory Orlov, Catherine's third lover, who was with her for eleven years and helped to put her on the throne.
Gregory Potemkin, covered with medals, titles, land, palaces, and responsibilities by a passionately loving Catherine.
This is an incredibly intimate look at such an incredible historical person. Massie goes to great lengths to give context, one or two times perhaps a little to much space was... Read morePublished 5 days ago by richard mills
Catherine the Great was Russia’s longest reigning female ruler. The fact that she did not inherit Russian by birth because she was of German descent makes her story all the more... Read morePublished 6 days ago by Lauralee Jacks
Terriffic book about a past age, until you look at today's news and it's Dejavu all over again. Only the names have been changed to condemn the guilty.Published 8 days ago by Jeffrey Collins
Needs to be read by everyone looking to understand this historical period. Long read, but we'll organized. Treats private and public life of the Empress tastefully.Published 9 days ago by Janis McCoy
I've read it twice. Stupendous biography of this woman and very interestingly written.Published 12 days ago by Joyce Howe
Robert Massie is a genuine master...and his examination of Catherine the Great is a simply fascinating story. Read morePublished 15 days ago by arthurthird
Extremely well researched. Interesting historical read. Lovely lay out. But I read the whole thing and still can't figure out why she is called "the great". Read morePublished 16 days ago by Ben Russell
This detailed Catherine the Great's life and especially her reign. I am not a huge history buff, but I really enjoyed this biography. Read morePublished 16 days ago by cathelen