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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.
Much to learn about her in an easy to read book. Almost a nail-biter!
It desperately needs a family tree genealogical map to understand the relationships however!! Read more
A fascinating biography that pieces together the history of Russia and links with the royal houses of Europe. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Paul Gebhard
It was very interesting to look into Catherine's life story and to step into and discover her personal relationships with family, friends, lovers, adversaries. Read morePublished 13 days ago by J the estate manager
Happy with all aspects of delivery, etc. Fascinating read!Published 22 days ago by Ann Marie Etheridge
I knew nothing about Russian history when I begin this book. I learned a great deal regarding Catherine the great the times in which she lived in the events occurring in multiple... Read morePublished 24 days ago by Rebecca
Thought I should take a test after reading the book. Much historical dates, theories and postulations. A slow read. Sorry I bought it.Published 26 days ago by Carol
A brilliant account of one of history's most fascinating figures. I did not know much about Russian history till I picked this up and I'm thankful I did. What a delightful read. Read morePublished 1 month ago by yappingwithyomi
Not bad reading for being as factual as possible and based on letters and correspondence - seems pretty comprehensive and backed up, but I'm no expert. Read morePublished 1 month ago by McCall