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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars As entertaining as a monarch's biography can get, December 11, 2011
This review is from: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Hardcover)
Like probably every woman of note in history, open about and unashamed of her sexuality, Catherine the Great is primarily remembered as a power- and man-hungry, salacious, perverted woman. Try googling her name and see how high on the list of the results is the ever-pressing question - Did she really sleep with a horse? Does anyone care about her accomplishments in politics, art and science? Not really. But her sexual exploits? Oh, YES!

That's why I appreciate Robert K. Massie's "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" so much. It is an honest, frank, compassionate account of this superbly intelligent and deeply dedicated to her adoptive country woman's life.

As expected from a biography of a monarch, this work is pretty heavy on historical details. I won't lie, I skimmed over a good quarter of the book, not desiring to read much about domestic and foreign policies, wars, legislation and reforms.

Thankfully, the details of Catherine's personal life had me glued to the pages of this hefty work. She was brought to Russia at the age of 14, married to a man unable to rid her of her virginity for years (just like Marie Antoinette) and thus encouraged to take a lover and get pregnant by him to finally produce an heir to the Russian throne (which made me think - how many kings, emperors and princes who were assumed to belong to various royal dynasties had actual blood/DNA claim to them? not many methinks), deposed her own husband and usurped the power. And, of course, all those lovers - oh my, 12 in total throughout her life, by Massie's count. Ironically, her husband was not one of the 12.

It is easy to sensationalize these facts of Catherine's life and use them to condemn her. But the reality is, most of what she did was motivated by Catherine's desire to serve Russia, be that by producing a very necessary heir when her husband was unable to do so due to psychological or physical issues, or by removing the same incapable husband from the throne. As for the lovers, as a woman of high intellect and high power, Catherine was never able to find a man emotionally, politically and intellectually equal to her. Thus can be explained her "harem" of young favorites she settled for in the later years of her life, to quench her loneliness mostly.

I finished this biography feeling a lot of respect for Catherine, a progressive, smart, responsible woman. But I felt sad on her behalf too. She might have succeeded as a monarch, but her personal desires of being a mother and having a dedicated life partner were never completely fulfilled.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 6, 2012 7:49:09 AM PST
Massie's book is a godawful mess and fraud by an author who can't even read
russian and knows dern little Russian history! One of the worst books ever foisted on an unthinking pblic. Totally pathetic!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 6, 2012 7:57:26 AM PST
And you are telling me this why exactly?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 7, 2012 7:53:41 PM PST
Because Massie's bvook is a fraud, one of the worst I've ever read. Enjoy it at your own peril!!

Posted on Mar 7, 2012 7:57:06 PM PST
Honest, frank," surely you jest.The book is a total fraud. Miserably "researched," ineptly written, Massie can't even read
russian. I kid you not!
that's how "honest" he is. Dream on.
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