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

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
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bookshelves: nonfiction, read-2017

This book is hard to place on a scale. At times, it’s a 5 and other times it’s a 2 or even a 1. After some debating in my head I’m going to give it a 3.5, but it’s not enough to round it up to a 4.

This book started off as a 5 and I loved it. The story of Catherine (then Sophia) growing up, being picked as the bride for the heir to the Russian Empire, and her years spent in Russia was great. Massie interspaced entries from her own memoirs into these years and it really added a great personal flavor to the history. Granted I didn’t know that story going into this book but it’s a very interesting look at a girl getting out from under her family and turning into a strong woman.

Then Catherine becomes Empress and the book takes a huge nose-dive. Just when I thought it was going to really get interesting. Instead of continuing the solid chronological narrative, the author suddenly decides to tackle broad topics related to Catherine’s reign – her legal code book, her various lovers, Poland, philosophy, art etc. All important things to her rule but it’s a very jarring switch. Plus he bounces around in the timeline until I have no real sense of when these things are happening. The crème de la crème occurs when suddenly there’s a chapter on the French revolution and the death penalty.

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The author eventually jumps back towards a chronological narrative but he never recovers the strength of the beginning. There’s still a lot of year jumping so that it feels like you learn about something only to go back in time and build the years up to it. Not the smoothest read for sure and while I was more interesting in the historical events, I never felt like I got a solid look at Catherine’s full reign as Empress.

Before you know it, Catherine is an old woman. Like I really had a holy shit moment of why is her health failing suddenly?! What do you mean she’s in her 60s and her grandson is like 17 and people think she wants him to be heir?! HE WAS JUST BORN?! Then she’s gone and that’s the book. I really could have used a legacy chapter here or even a little bit of what happened next to the family.

Honestly I think Massie tried to tackle too much in one book. It’s understandable given her amazing life and the interesting journey she took to the Russian throne. It was definitely a 5 star read for me. I wish he would have sorted out her life as Empress and folded broad issue topics into the narrative as they occurred as a second book. I can recommend the first part of this book. If you want to learn about Catherine pre-Empress, it is definitely an intriguing story. Just don’t expect to be too excited about her life as Empress.
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Reading Progress

February 1, 2017 – Started Reading
February 1, 2017 – Shelved
February 2, 2017 –
page 132
21.12%
February 7, 2017 –
page 225
36.0%
February 20, 2017 –
page 371
59.36% "This has slowed down a lot for me now that it's more policy-oriented rather than historical events."
February 24, 2017 – Shelved as: nonfiction
February 24, 2017 – Shelved as: read-2017
February 24, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Orient (new)

Orient Great review, Sam :)))) Hope you'll satisfy your history fan inside, with your next read ;)))


message 2: by Alissa (new) - added it

Alissa Mhhh, I read this book some time ago, probably 2013, but I don't remember much of it. Just that it was fun to tackle a historical period that was far too advanced for my tastes (medieval buff forever here).


message 3: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam Orient wrote: "Great review, Sam :)))) Hope you'll satisfy your history fan inside, with your next read ;)))"

Thanks! Me toooo! They take so much longer to read that it's very disheartening when they're no bueno.


message 4: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam Alissa wrote: "Mhhh, I read this book some time ago, probably 2013, but I don't remember much of it. Just that it was fun to tackle a historical period that was far too advanced for my tastes (medieval buff forev..."

It was super fun to actual learn about a new period/story that I didn't know. Some of the stuff just blows your mind that it actually happened. But I agree. I even got a medieval studies certificate in undergrad. XD It's hard to find well-written books that don't feel like the millionth time I've read the same history though. Although I still keep reading them =D


message 5: by Choko (new)

Choko Great review, Sam!


message 6: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam Choko wrote: "Great review, Sam!"

Thanks!


[Name Redacted] Do you think the author should have divided it into two books?


message 8: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam [Name Redacted] wrote: "Do you think the author should have divided it into two books?"

I do! I really thought her time on the throne was cut super short. Too much time was spent on all her lovers rather than what she, herself, accomplished and what happened beyond this or that favorite at the time.


message 9: by Alissa (new) - added it

Alissa Sam wrote: "Alissa wrote: "Mhhh, I read this book some time ago, probably 2013, but I don't remember much of it. Just that it was fun to tackle a historical period that was far too advanced for my tastes (medi..."

Cool :) I'm simply an enthusiast, I wished I had studied medieval history in some organized fashion, but Wikipedia comes to my aid whenever I need it :D Of course we still keep reading books that float up our boats, but it's nice to wander once in a while.
:D:D:D


[Name Redacted] Sam wrote: "[Name Redacted] wrote: "Do you think the author should have divided it into two books?"

I do! I really thought her time on the throne was cut super short. Too much time was spent on all her lovers..."


That does sound disappointing... :(


message 11: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam [Name Redacted] wrote: "Sam wrote: "[Name Redacted] wrote: "Do you think the author should have divided it into two books?"

I do! I really thought her time on the throne was cut super short. Too much time was spent on al..."


It was! I'm on the hunt for another Catherine the Great book. Her story was really interesting and I'm wanted to learn more about her actual rule.


message 12: by Sam (new) - rated it 3 stars

Sam Alissa wrote: "Sam wrote: "Alissa wrote: "Mhhh, I read this book some time ago, probably 2013, but I don't remember much of it. Just that it was fun to tackle a historical period that was far too advanced for my ..."

Good 'ol Wikipedia! =)


Angela Singh I couldn’t agree more with this review.


Jesus I rounded up 3 out of 5 :) but my thoughts exactly.


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