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on July 8, 2012
Thsi historical biography reads like a novel, a well researched undertaking of the story of a very interesting woman.. Motivated even at the age of fourteen to learn every thing she needed to learn to prepare herself for her future life as the empress . She was extremely smart and knew exactly what she needed to learn in order to succeed. While she failed in her efforts to eliminate slavery and her legislative changes were not fully implemented, she was a leader ahead of her time. The interesting omission is that there was no mention of her creation of the Pale of Settlement , which resulted in relocation of all the Jews to this area. I don' t understand why the author left this out.
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This is one of two biographies made available via the Amazon US Vine program that I have read. The other is Kenneth Slawenski's J. D. Salinger: A Life. They have been widely reviewed and generally praised. My reviews of them are late to the proverbial "party."

In my opinion, here is what they share in common:

1. Their authors rely on a wealth of reputable sources, all duly cited.
2. Those who read these books will probably learn about as much as they want and need to know about the subject.
3. Their authors write very well. For example, the presentation of the material flows smoothly.

Other reviewers already have (by now) covered most of the main points to be made. I now share these:

1. I have always been intrigued by certain women throughout history who were great leaders. They include Catherine, of course, as well as Elizabeth I. How did they manage the power of their gifts for leadership and management with their human needs? What were the defining moments in the development as both leader and person?

2. To what extent is each a product of her age? Emblematic of her age? A new paradigm of her age?

3. What were the nature and extent of impact of her leadership in her own time? On subject generations? What then is her defining heritage?

I rate Robert Massie Five Stars on all counts.
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on February 26, 2012
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 the assassination of her husband, Peter III, and her reign is often considered the Golden Age of the Russian Empire. This was a period when the Russian Empire was expanding rapidly through both conquest and diplomacy. In the south, the Crimean Khanate was crushed following Russian victories over the Ottoman Empire, and Russia colonised territory along the coasts of the Azov and Black Seas. In the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was eventually partitioned between Austria, Prussia and Russia with Russia gaining the largest share.
Catherine often relied on her noble favourites, most notably Grigory Orlov (whose brother Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov's victory at Chesme Bay in June 1770 gave Russia a foothold in the Black Sea) and Grigory Potemkin (governor of Russia's new southern provinces and responsible for the annexation of the Crimea).

Catherine presided over the age of the Russian enlightenment, founding the Smolny Institute in 1764 (the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe), corresponded with Denis Diderot and Voltaire, and ruled as an enlightened despot.

`She was a majestic figure in the age of monarchy; the only woman to equal her on a European throne was Elizabeth I of England. In the history of Russia, she and Peter the Great tower in ability and achievement over the other 14 tsars and empresses of the three hundred year Romanov dynasty.'

The history of this period makes for fascinating reading: 18th century geopolitics were complex and Mr Massie presents detailed information clearly. Catherine herself is presented sympathetically by Mr Massie: a child neglected by her mother; a wife ignored by her husband; a highly intelligent woman who had platonic relationships with thinkers like Diderot and Voltaire, and physical relationships with a number of different noble favourites some of whom fathered her children.

This is both a detailed biography of Catherine the Great and a detailed history of Europe's 18th century, and while it wasn't always easy to read I found it absorbing. At times, I found myself admiring Catherine and sympathizing with her. At other times I found her actions at deplorable. She could be both courageous, and insensitive. She was definitely, though, fascinating. The woman who `became the greatest collector and patron of art in the history of Europe' was interested in public health, was inoculated against smallpox and was also an insensitive mother.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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on July 17, 2014
I have thoroughly enjoyed every book I have read by Robert K. Massie; this book being no exception. I found the details very good, and Massie is able to paint a vivid picture of what life in Catherine's Court looked like. I only have one serious criticism of this book, and that would be the author's often spending more time talking about those around Catherine, rather than on the woman herself. I do concede that without proper historical context, many of the people in this book would not be understandable in what they do and why. From that point of view, Massie does those in Catherine's life a huge service. I would estimate that a good 1/3 of the book is not on Catherine, but those others, with parts to play. Other than my noted criticism, I would recommend this book for anyone interested in Russian history or just interested in a book that reads like a novel, but is completely factual.
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on April 11, 2012
I am a bit of a fan of Robert Massie's work: he has made several eras of Russian history come alive for me. So I was predisposed to enjoy reading his biography of Catherine.

I was not disappointed: the lively pace rich with incident, the sense of insight into the characters of the key players and the manner in which he placed it all in the broader context of Europe during the Enlightenment all worked together to create a fascinating and satisfying read. He admits he fell a little under Catherine's spell himself, but it seems to have helped him to paint a colourful and vibrant portrait.

Two thumbs up.
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on November 1, 2015
This is a fascinating story of probably the eighteenth century's most powerful woman. Massie is a wonderful writer who has mastered the art of narrative history. In this book he traces the life of Catherine the Great from her marriage to the unbalanced Peter III to her death as one of Russia's greatest rulers. In it he dispels some of the outrageous rumors that have spread about her over the ages. And actually we come to sympathize with this unfortunate, abused princess who ends up usurping the throne. She certainly had her follies, but so does everyone. She expanded her empire both physically and culturally and pushed it further towards the West. She was the true heir of Peter the Great and no tzar that followed was able to reach her achievements. She may not have been able to put all her Enlightenment ideals into practice, and may even have become disillusioned, but her attempts to modernize Russia set the stage for any further advancements. Unfortunately, her heirs were not up to the same stuff as this remarkable woman. Anyone with the least interest in Russian or European history should read this book. Highly recommended!
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on April 9, 2015
I knew little of Catherine the Great when I turned to page one. But as I read I came to
see that this lady was one of the greats of history. If she were around today she'd have a thing
or two to teach our politicians and heads of state. Many chapters and a long story which
teaches us a lot about the Russia of old and how Catherine managed to rule the empire in
and just manner - mixed with a delightful soupcon of Machavellieanism
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on July 19, 2012
Wonderfully written, well researched and a delight to read. A real page it on the city transit and missed a stop.
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on February 10, 2014
This is my second Robert Massie book, and I have to say I love his style. History can be a very boring subject when not introduced properly, and Robert brings these historical people to life with his words. He delves into great detail on the lives of his subjects and the lives of those around them. Thoroughly enjoyed this and will be looking for more of his books to learn about other people.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon November 18, 2014
Catherine the Great was truly an incredible woman. Robert K. Massie did a great job of detailing her life in an interesting way. I was pleasantly surprised at how in detail this book goes. I finished the book having a much better understanding of Russian history and the Great Empress.
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