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Catherine the Great Paperback – April 6, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; 1 edition (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060786280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060786281
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,548,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Catherine II of Russia (1729–96) might have been forgotten as a German-born Romanov brood mare but for her unscrupulous seizure of the Russian throne in 1762 and subsequent lengthy reign as the quintessential Enlightenment monarch—achievements that have fascinated posterity ever since. For her remarkable story, British historian Dixon, steeped in Catherine’s setting, positions his work between the scholarly and the salacious and accents courtier politics and the autocrat’s sensibilities. After recounting the palace coup that brought Catherine to power, Dixon develops her approach to wielding it through her interactions with builders, diplomats, generals, lackeys, and pen pals, such as Voltaire, on the receiving end of her reforming zeal. With the building boom in St. Petersburg, constitutional changes, and territorial expansion that accompanied her reign as backdrops to his portrait, Dixon sympathetically educes Catherine’s personal life; that is, the train of swains caught up in her—as one chapter title puts it—“search for emotional stability.” An appreciation of the person Catherine the Great that is full of insightful perceptions. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Like Catherine herself, Simon Dixon’s new biography is attractive, engaging, and very intelligent. It wears its scholarship lightly, too, but established fans of the Russian empress will find plenty of new material and those who are meeting her for the first time will be dazzled.” (Catherine Merridale, author of Ivan's War and Night of Stone: Death and Memory in Russia)

“There is lots new in this superb biography . . . [Dixon] manages to be scholarly, refreshing, commonsensical and compelling, vividly portraying the charismatic Empress and her times.” (Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Sashenka and Young Stalin)

Customer Reviews

2.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful By C. McNamee on May 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
When I purchased this book, I was hoping to get an insight into Catherine, and the politics of her age. What I unfortunately established, is; that this book is a poor read, and a waste of time.It fails to properly introduce courtiers and dignitaries, leaving you completely baffled as to who they were, or did. There was about a page devoted to the Seven Years War, while Dr.Dixon recalled every single banquet, regailing us with the extremely interesting candle formations and their cost.This book fails to give one a thorough incite into her reign, and that of her husband, and the Empress Elisabeth. Overall, this is probably the worst book I've ever had the displeasure to read.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By N. Perz on January 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a pretty lame excuse for history. Catherine was Empress of Russia for something like 34 years and yet all Dixon sees fit to write about are her parties, her wardrobe, her correspondence, and her idle time with her inner-circle of favorites. Surely, she must have spent SOME of her time actually governing the Empire. There is almost nothing about either the foreign or domestic affairs of the time. This is a total fluff-piece: very non-informative and nearly devoid of historical value.

Not recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Feanor on March 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
What a woman Catherine was! Intellectually rapacious, sexually voracious, a great correspondent, a product of the Enlightenment, a socially conscious queen, coquettish and stern, motherly when the occasion demanded it, at other times filled with hauteur. Forever associated with Russia, this greatest of 18th century European monarchs was a product of her times and yet in many ways managed to transcend them.

And she wasn't even Russian. Born into a minor Germanic Protestant nobility, she was lucky enough to marry the hapless Crown Prince of Russia. Having converted to Orthodoxy and allegedly having engineered her husband's death, she ruled as absolute monarch of all the Russias for decades thereafter. This biography is a superb account of her rise, her tribulations and loves, her cultural achievements, her zenith, and the curious suppression of her fame after her death.

When your average totalitarian despot says to you that she values your opinion, you would do well to obfuscate. In Catherine's case, people actually took her at her word, and that was a complete break with the past. They could provide her facts without fear, and so her administrative drives were based on some semblance of reality. After her time, people tried to malign her reputation - calling her a slut and a thief of other people's immoral ideas. Simon Dixon shows that she did borrow much of her thoughts on governance from the great philosophers of the Enlightenment, and she, more than any other monarch in Europe, tried hard to ameliorate the lives of her subjects. In contrast to the centralising tendencies of her predecessors, she was able to delegate civil and military duties. She was successful in diplomacy and in war. For these alone she can truly be called the Great.
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