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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  63,860 Ratings  ·  3,106 Reviews
Pulitzer Prize winner Massie offers the tale of a princess who went to Russia at 14 and became one of the most powerful women in history.

Born into minor German nobility, she transformed herself into an empress by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant, curious mind, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers, and reaching the throne, tried using their princ
Hardcover, First edition, 625 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Random House, Inc. (NY) (first published 2011)
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Suem Our entire book club decided that the book was about Catherine, and that trying to keep up with the names and lineage of all the other characters was…moreOur entire book club decided that the book was about Catherine, and that trying to keep up with the names and lineage of all the other characters was probably not allowing us to enjoy the book as much. Keep that in mind, and you will like it more! Enjoy.(less)

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Grace Tjan
Dec 03, 2011 Grace Tjan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography, ebook, 2011

First things first: that wasn’t my real name. The Empress Elizabeth, who was Peter the Great’s daughter (now, that is a man who truly deserves “the Great” after his name!), changed my name to Ekaterina when she converted me into the Russian Orthodox religion. As for that superfluous title that follows my new name, it was prematurely bestowed on me by the Legislative Commission that I convened to give Russia a more enlightened legal code (more on this later)
Dec 09, 2011 Tatiana rated it really liked it
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 Gre
Apr 26, 2016 Matt rated it it was amazing
Firstly, to answer your most pressing question regarding Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796: No, she did not die having sex with a horse.

Moreover, if you have an abiding interest in the origins of this rumor, Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman will not satiate your deviant interest (it certainly didn't satisfy mine). Massie refuses to engage the slander – born during her own lifetime – at any level.

Thus, there is not one sentence of horse sex in
Jul 20, 2016 Dem rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian-history
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K Massie is the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who travelled to Russia at the tender age of fourteen and rose to become one of
the most powerful, and captivating women in history.

I had previously read Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra which was wonderful and I was really interested in reading about Catherine the Great.

Massie did extensive research on this book. It is Catherine’s detailed and excellent memoirs and letters f
Rebecca Huston
Apr 06, 2016 Rebecca Huston rated it it was amazing
This one was clearly a win for me as a biography of Catherine the Great. Massie's writing is clear, brisk and kept the story moving throughout. What I really enjoyed was how he took the time and trouble to show how Catherine carried forward the reforms begun by Peter the Great, and was a monarch who overcame a great deal of adversity to overcome the obstacles of not being Russian, being a woman, and a usurper to boot -- most biographies focus on her time before becoming empress and/or her lovers ...more
Sep 20, 2016 Chrissie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am impressed. Catherine the Great lived from 1729-1796. She was 14 when she first came to Russia, This book covers this entire time period meticulously. I understand how her childhood experiences came to shape her as an adult. I understand her need for love and why she came to have twelve lovers. At the same time she was motivated to seek power. She played a huge role in European history. All of this history is detailed in the book. You meet her as a person and as a leader. Everything one coul ...more
Sep 11, 2012 Madeline rated it really liked it
"She sat on the throne of Peter the Great and ruled an empire, the largest on earth. Her signature, inscribed on a decree, was law and, if she chose, could mean life or death for any one of her twenty million subjects. She was intelligent, well-read, and a shrewd judge of character. During the coup, she had shown determination and courage; once on the throne, she displayed an open mind, willingness to forgive, and a political morality founded on rationality and practical efficiency. She softened ...more
Alice Poon
Jul 16, 2016 Alice Poon rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, history

This engaging and well-researched historical tome about one of Russia’s greatest rulers merits 4 full stars. Apart from painting a memorable and respectable portrait of the dramatic life of Catherine the Great, the book also accounts succinctly for the labyrinth of European/Eurasian politics at play in the 18th century, and depicts Russia’s participation in the Seven Years’ War, its carving up of Poland, its two major Wars with Turkey and its putting down the Pugachev Rebellion.

As a child German
Jul 17, 2016 Kiwi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautiful and very readable biography of one of the most fascinating and influential women in history. The author did not limit his book to Catherine’s story nor to her family and the Russian imperial line but included many important figures from the Russian political world and the wider European courts and culture (for example wonderful cameos of Voltaire and Diderot). In this way, Massie successfully provides a 360 degree view of historical period in which Catherine lived and an enjo ...more
his the biography of Catherine the Great written by Robert K. Massie.

In reality, her birthday’s name was Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.

Her father, Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst was a German prince of the House of Ascania. He was a ruler of the Principality of Anhalt-Dornburg.

Her mother, Joanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp was a princess of the House of Holstein-Gottorp and later the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst.

By being born in Stettin - a small principality call
Aug 11, 2014 Athens rated it it was ok
Maybe this book is very excellent at what it wanted to be, but I wanted it to be something different. I wanted a history book.

1) In trying to be accessible, the prose comes off as simplistic at times.

2) A quibble is the repetition of statements from only a few chapters prior. Those statements do help set the scene for the current action, but are sometimes overdone and unnecessary if the reader had been paying any attention at all to what was just recently covered.

3) At one point in the book tow
Ashley *Hufflepuff Kitten*
Historical Fictionistas Group Read starting 1Feb15!

Started reading this in February, got roughly 30 pages in and put it down... Found the audio through my library and I'm SO GLAD I did, otherwise I might never have finished this. Not because it's boring, but because the research is simply EXHAUSTIVE. If you're interested in Russian history, I highly recommend this book. It's my first Massie book but I have two more waiting at home (thankfully shorter than this one). He presents history from all
Jul 04, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
Sophia, daughter of humble Prince Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst, Prussia, spends an lonely childhood, unloved by a scheming mother, recommended by Frederick the Great and subsequently summoned to Russia by Empress Elizabeth, married to the heir Peter III (also a German) who would not consummate the marriage for 9 years, produces an heir to the throne (just who is the father?), then relegated to the background, eventually forces her unbalanced husband to abdicate while she assumes the throne of Russi ...more
Nov 30, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it
I wish Robert Massie had written this book before my trip to Russia in 2008. One thing I was looking forward to seeing on that trip was Catherine’s Palace and The Amber Room. Of course, I also visited The Hermitage and between these settings, I did get to see some the incredible art collection that Catherine amassed during her reign. Ah, but there is so much more to this woman.

Robert K. Massie certainly delivers on the subtitle of his book: The Portrait of a Woman particularly in the opening ch
Saikhnaa Ch
Jan 12, 2017 Saikhnaa Ch rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, 2016
жирийн нэгэн герман охин Оросын хатан хаан болсон, болох болохдоо алдар цуугаа мандуулсан Орос орныг нийгэм, соёлын хөгжлийн шинэ шатанд авчирсан сонирхолтой түүх. Энэ намтрыг Оросын түүх, алдартай хаад ноёдын түүхээр дагнан бичдэг Пулитцерын шагнал бүхий зохиолч Роберт Масси бичжээ.
Apr 19, 2013 happy rated it really liked it
Mr Massie has again brought one of the members of the ruling dynasty of Russia to life. He draws a complex picture of the woman who became known as Catherine the Great. She however resisted using the term Great and preferred to referred to as Catherine II.

Massie starts his narrative with Catherine – then known as Sofia, a minor German princess, and the maneuverings of her mother to get her married off. She ends up traveling with her mother to the court of Elizabeth of Russia as a potential bride
Nov 11, 2011 Laura rated it really liked it
Massie's research into the life of Catherine II is extensive (for example, he used three different translations of her Memoirs) and wide-ranging and the writing style is engaging enough to almost make one forget this is a nearly 600 page book (it's the weight that gives it away).

While I knew something about her life, there was much I hadn't and was fascinated to learn. I knew she was a German princess, but not that it was of some small, unimportant state. I knew she and her mother didn't get alo
Clif Hostetler
Aug 12, 2016 Clif Hostetler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I was surprised how interesting I found this book to be. I had no particular interest in Catherine the Great and the only reason I read it was to reinforce my knowledge of history in preparation for a trip to Europe to trace the route of my wife’s ancestors' migrations. Their movements included a number of years in both southern Poland and Ukraine, both regions are within the sphere of influence of Catherine’s Russian Empire.

Since I didn’t know that much about Catherine, I was easily surprised
Jennifer (JC-S)
Mar 23, 2012 Jennifer (JC-S) rated it really liked it
Shelves: librarybooks
‘She sat on the throne of Peter the Great and ruled an empire, the largest on earth.’

Sophia Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst was born into a minor German noble family on 21 April 1729. Sophia was brought to Russia as a teenager, converted to Orthodoxy, renamed Catherine, and married off by the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna to her nephew and heir Peter. As Catherine II, she was Empress of Russia from 28 June 1762 until her death on 6 November 1796. She came to power following a coup d'état and th
Aug 06, 2016 Caidyn rated it liked it

I want to give this four stars, but I can't. Not even rounding up can I.

That being said, it's not a bad book at all. I knew next to nothing about Catherine the Great besides that she overthrew her husband and had him assassinated, then also had a ton of lovers. That's it. I didn't even know about the whole horse rumor, which still is... weird. Where they got that rumor from, who knows.

I learned so much about her, and also about Russia. The most I knew about Russia is focused around the last R
Sep 03, 2016 Clif rated it it was amazing
A flowing, engaging portrait of a remarkable person. Curiously, around mid-book, the author gets repetitive, as if the manuscript proofreader lost a section, then Massie gets right back into the groove.

Monarchy is always an interesting subject. We all fantasize at some point about what life would be like if we were fabulously rich and powerful. The history of monarchies gives us many examples of this wish becoming reality and it isn't comforting. When we look back on it we can see that those bor
Rex Fuller
Jan 01, 2015 Rex Fuller rated it really liked it
She was born Sophia Anhalt-Zerbst, a German. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia selected her at age 14 by to marry her nephew, Peter, the heir to the throne. Highly intelligent, raven-haired, beautiful, engaging, and outgoing, she first delighted the Russian court by learning the language. She converted from Lutheran to Orthodox, taking the name Ekaterina (Catherine). She did not love her husband-to-be, nor did he love her. But that had nothing to do with her ambition: she determined early on to be ...more
Oct 03, 2011 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
This gripping, well written book about Russian Empress Catherine the Great introduced me to a non-England and France centered European history that I knew almost nothing about, and to the very human but inspiring Catherine II. Catherine was born to a German family of minor nobility, and being a girl she was a disappointment to her poor but socially ambitious mother. The lack of affection she experienced during her childhood prepared her well for the marriage her mother managed to arrange to the ...more
Jan 16, 2012 Sara rated it really liked it
ARC received through the First Reads program.

Like many people, the most I knew about Catherine the Great was that she was a Russian queen with some persistent saucy rumors attached to her. This narrative history sheds a lot of light on the life of the German princess who became Empress of Russia in her own right. For example, the Russian royals didn't necessarily come to the throne by right of primogeniture, which is how Catherine was able to become Empress.

Catherine's marriage to Peter III was
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Oct 20, 2011 Donna rated it it was amazing
Massie's much anticipated biography of the only female Russian ruler accorded the title "the Great" is as compelling as his previous biographies.

This biography of Sophia Augusta, later known as Catherine, is a deeply researched and masterfully told story.

The book begins with an explaination of Sophia's early childhood. She was not a much loved child, being born a female and not the son her mother wanted. "Johanna could not find or express any maternal feeling. She did not nurse or caress her lit
Faith Justice
Dec 02, 2011 Faith Justice rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc-early-reader
Massie delivers a wonderfully researched and readable book. My knowledge of Catherine the Great was vague to the point of mythical. I had hazy memories of multiple lovers, a (possible) scandal about her and a horse, and a movie starring Greta Garbo. The lovers were real, but few; there was no mention of the horse; and the movie turned out to be about Queen Christina of Sweden who lived a century earlier. So much for memory.

To say Catherine is a fascinating character is to do her a disservice. Ma
Oct 20, 2011 Sera rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Massie is clearly the master of all things Romanov. I hope that he continues to write these wonderful, comprehensive biographies of various members of this interesting family.

I read Catherine the Great Love, Sex, and Power by Virginia Rounding by Virginia Rounding a couple of years ago and found the book to be very good - 5 stars to be exact. However, what I really like about reading Massie is that he provides much detail around the subject matter while keeping the book immensely readable. Rounding's book was more dense than Massie's, which may make it d
Jan 28, 2012 Jane rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lovers of history and biography.
Shelves: history, biography
Where I got the book: ARC from LibraryThing Early Reviewer Program

A good biography needs to be chunky, informative and as exciting as a novel. Massie does well on all three counts. Catherine The Great is a lively account of both Catherine's life and the slice of European and Russian history into which she was born, and I greatly enjoyed it.

Catherine, I learned, began life as a princess in an obscure German minor royal household. By the time she died, she had achieved great things for her vast Ru
Nancy Petralia
Mar 26, 2013 Nancy Petralia rated it it was ok
For a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, I found this book disappointing. Massie has indeed done an incredible job of research, but as a storyteller, he's missed the mark. To begin with he starts in the wrong place. The opening sentence is a bore and the following paragraphs, all about Catherine's father, do nothing to entice the reader. A few pages later there's a terrific paragraph that begins:

"Traveling toward an unknown country, propelled by an empress's sentimentality, a mother's ambition and t
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Robert Kinloch Massie (born 1929) is an American historian, writer, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and a Rhodes Scholar.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1929, Massie spent much of his youth in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in Westchester County, New York in the village of Irvington. He studied American history at Yale University and modern European history at Oxford University on his Rhode
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“The love of power and the power to attract love were not easy to reconcile.” 14 likes
“To prove to [her friend, Swedish diplomat Count] Gyllenborg that she was not superficial, Catherine composed an essay about herself, "so that he would see whether I knew myself or not." The next day, she wrote and handed to Gyllenborg an essay titled 'Portrait of a Fifteen-Year-Old Philosopher.' He was impressed and returned it with a dozen pages of comments, mostly favorable. "I read his remarks again and again, many times [Catherine later recalled in her memoirs]. I impressed them on my consciousness and resolved to follow his advice. In addition, there was something else surprising: one day, while conversing with me, he allowed the following sentence to slip out: 'What a pity that you will marry! I wanted to find out what he meant, but he would not tell me.” 11 likes
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