Like many people, the most I knew about Catherine the Great was that she was a Russian queen with some peARC 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 a disaster. They were married when both were little more than children, and for the entirety of their marriage Peter was way more interested in playing with toy soldiers in bed than anything else. After Peter was overthrown and Catherine came to the throne, she did have a lot of lovers--this is true. She may have married one of them. But salacious gossip aside, she was an astute and adept ruler, the equal of my personal favorite Elizabeth I of England. The best thing about Robert K. Massie's tome, however, is that I didn't get bogged down with lists of dates and official goings-on. I never lost sight of the fact that Catherine was a real woman, complete with feelings and flaws. That's hard to pull off with histories.
Massie's book is a long one, clocking in at nearly 600 pages (not including index and source list, either). Much of the first part of the book is drawn from Catherine's memoirs, leading to a really personal glimpse into her early life. Russian history is not my strong suit, but after reading this work, I'm inspired to tackle Massie's biography of Peter the Great....more