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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.
The book came on time and it is an excellent insight to the life of Catherine the Great, written in a such easy reading author. Read morePublished 1 day ago by mrgu
A fine concise history of the life and achievements of this remarkable woman and written in a style that makes her biography very easy to read. Read morePublished 3 days ago by David Allen
Well written but entirely too detailed for the reader who is not a history professor!Published 4 days ago by Carol Cummins
Great insight into the wisdom and character of Catherine.Massie is wonderful at revealing the context of personalities of Russia, but of the other countries in the social and... Read morePublished 5 days ago by Al R.
I thought she spent too much time on the personal side of Catherine's life and not enough on the times she lived in. Read morePublished 7 days ago by Minot Simons II
Once again the writing of Yale professor, Robert K. Massie, and his expertise on Russian History take us the realization of one of the most fascinating royal dynasties in the... Read morePublished 8 days ago by Fernando Bermudez Barreiro
I have stayed up late to read more. Sort of a long read but if you are a history buff you won't be able to put it down. Well written and accurate.Published 8 days ago by seuss
Very enjoyable read, but I didn't need so many details of her sex life.Published 10 days ago by Lonnie Lasman