Trena's Reviews > Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
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Oct 06, 2013

really liked it
Read from September 12 to October 06, 2013

Very long and not perfect, but a fascinating read absolutely stuffed with information. I would rate closer to 3 1/2 stars, but didn't want to downgrade. I know virtually nothing of Russian history, so I was going into this pretty blind. Massie covers Catherine's life, but there is enough background on her predecessors that context isn't an issue. My knowledge of history feels much richer for having read this book.

If you don't want history spoiled, do not read on. I'm not going to spoiler-tag it because, well, it's history.

Born a German princess (but not a princess in the sense of daughter of the monarch--apparently everybody and their dog was a princess back then), Catherine was hand-picked by Empress Elizabeth to marry Elizabeth's nephew and heir. Peter III turned out to be a whiny little bitch who never sealed the deal. Empress Elizabeth basically told Catherine to take a lover because she had to start popping out some babies. So she took the first of 12 lovers in her life and popped out some babies. After Elizabeth's death, Peter III ruled for a short time and Catherine came to the throne when her people forced Peter out and murdered him shortly thereafter. Totally crazy.

Once Catherine comes on the throne the book is less exciting, but still interesting. There is a lot of statecraft and foreign policy, along with a few lovers along the way.

My biggest complaint is chronology. Her reign is covered by topic--the Polish wars, an internal insurrection, art collection, her children and grandchildren, her lovers, the French revolution, etc. It is really hard to piece together a chronology of when everything was happening. I understand why it was written that way, as a strictly chronological telling would be such a jumble I'd be complaining that I couldn't follow any of the separate threads, but it affected my understanding of Catherine as a person because I didn't know what all her influences were at a particular time bearing on a particular decision. My other minor complaint is that the writing can be flat in places, but I have impossibly high standards for writing.
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10/06/2013 marked as: read

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