Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

[portrait of A Woman]

Audiobook CD - 2011
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The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the "benevolent despot" idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as "the Messalina of the north."

Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies--all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her "favorites"--the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

From the Hardcover edition.

Publisher: Westminster, Md. : Books on Tape, p2011.
ISBN: 9780307970213
Branch Call Number: B CATHERINE II
Characteristics: 19 sound discs (23 hr., 52 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
Additional Contributors: Deakins, Mark


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Nov 29, 2017

Catherine was amazing! Complicated and contradictory!

May 13, 2017

My rating has nothing to do with the research provided in this book nor of the writing. Even the narration is impeccable. I chose this book looking for the reasoning behind the title "the Great." The revelation that was provided to me had less to do with Catherine and more with the ineptitude of Peter III. In all my historical study, the price rulers were willing to pay to establish a dynasty always seems to border on obsessive to the point of insanity. Such was the case with Elizabeth Petrovna in naming Peter III as her heir. The fact that Catherine deposed her husband and saved Russia from becoming Prussian, despite her German heritage, perhaps makes her worthy of being called "the Great. However, where the book lost points with me was in providing in-depth information regarding her paramours. Every history student knows about the machinations involved with passion and seduction in circles of power. Hence, three stars, but I do appreciate the confirmation of my staunch belief that women are just as capable as heads-of-state as men, even if they suffer from the same frailties of ego.

TSCPL_MichelleS Jun 01, 2016

This book is quite amazing - it is so dense and intimidating yet somehow the author manages to lay out a complex history and personal narrative in a way that is understandable and easily followed. I knew practically nothing about Catherine the Great/18th century Europe before beginning this book, but through the skill of Massie I had no trouble making my way through this fascinating work. Catherine the Great was simultaneously powerful on the continent, but extremely vulnerable in her personal life. A great read! One note: this is a large book/long audiobook and may need to be renewed past the original due date to finish.

Cdnbookworm Jun 12, 2013

This biography is extensive and covers many aspects of Catherine's life and reign. She was born a minor Prussian princess and was named Sophie. She was born in 1729, and brought to Russia by the Empress Elizabeth as the potential bride for her nephew Peter (later Peter III). She was only 14, and was expected to marry as she was told. She had to convert to the Orthodox religion, against her father's wishes. Her husband Peter III, was a immature and many believe the marriage was never consummated. Catherine did have three children, but they are all believed to be illegitimate. She came to power in 1762 as a result of a coup d'etat, and what is believed to be an assassination of her husband Peter III. She was definitely more knowledgeable about politics, foreign affairs, and culture than Peter, although he was fascinated by the military, playing with toy soldiers even after their marriage.
This book covers her early life, her betrothal and marriage to Peter and how she gained the love and respect of the Russian people. Her lovers, her political maneuverings, the wars she was involved in, are all covered here. We see how she became Europe's biggest art collector, beginning a collection that eventually became that of the Hermitage Museum. We discover her interest in the enlightenment and her high goals for change in the country. Some of these she found she could not accomplish, such as the abolishment of serfdom, others took longer than she anticipated. Ruling until her death in 1796, she is still known along with Peter the Great, as one of Russia's best rulers. She expanded the Russian empire to the Crimea, into Poland, and the far east. She initiated lengthy correspondences with Voltaire, Diderot, and other members of the Enlightenment. She was an early adopter of inoculations against disease and was herself inoculated against smallpox as an example to her people. She was also a strong proponent of education for the people.
I found this book fascinating. Catherine was an extremely interesting woman.


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