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

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review

really liked it
bookshelves: biography, history-general

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 for her successor and nephew. She is chosen and weds the Crown Prince of Russia – who is as German as she is.
The first half of the book leans heavily on Catherine’s own journals and in some ways overdoses us on the details of daily life. At the same time the portrait Massie paints is fascinating. He paints a picture of a naïve you girl who grows into one of the most powerful women of the last half of the 18th century.

In addition to the personal, Mr. Massie looks at the politics of Catherine’s reign - her wars with the Ottoman Empire, the rivalry with Prussia and Frederick the Great, the alliance with Austria. ON the domestic policy arena, he covers her attempts to reform and modernize the laws of Russia, including those dealing with serfdom.
Massie also looks at the people she kept up correspondence with, including leading figures of the enlightenment, Voltaire and Diderot. She attempted to put into practice some of their theories, but opposition from her Nobles and her reaction to the French Revolution but an end to many of the reforms.

Mr Massie also comments on the rumors surrounding her sexuality. He presents a woman who was probably a serial monogamist. Her marriage was unconsummated for at least 9 yrs. And when the people surrounding her realized that she had taken a lover, made sure her husband performed his husbandly duties (at least for a while). The paternity of her first child and successor can never be proven, but he physically did resemble her husband and not her lover at the time. As far as the other rumors are concerned, Mr. Massie basically says, nothing about what happened behind the closed bedroom door was written down, so we can never know.

This is a very good companion to his other looks at the Romanov Dynasty and I highly recommend it.
14 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Catherine the Great.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

January 25, 2013 – Shelved
March 29, 2013 – Started Reading
April 6, 2013 –
page 420
April 8, 2013 – Finished Reading
April 11, 2013 – Shelved as: biography
April 11, 2013 – Shelved as: history-general

Comments Showing 1-1 of 1 (1 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Mike I have this one on the shelf and your review tells me I should read it sooner. Nice review.

back to top