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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman Library Binding – 18 Sep 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product details

  • Library Binding: 639 pages
  • Publisher: Turtleback Books; Reprint edition (18 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0606268367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0606268363
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 4.3 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,721,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Enjoyable and perceptive study ... Rounding has read widely, and writes punctilious, professional history with a no-nonsense style and a respectful relish for the details that make the past come alive." (Simon Sebag Montefiore Sunday Telegraph)

"Rounding writes with enviable lucidity, and gives us the most accessible and enjoyable portrait yet." (Daily Mail)

"A great thumping triumph of a book." (Daily Telegraph)

"Rounding shows that ... the reality is far more interesting than any of the fictions." (Scotland on Sunday)

"Written with vigour and intelligence enough to do justice to its prodigious subject." (Sunday Times) --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

Power politics and sexual politics combine in the life of an extraordinary woman who ruled Russia from 1762 until her death in 1796. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is a very good overview of the life of this Empress. The author has managed to make the subject both interesting and informative at the same time. It gives a very good insight into the Russian court, as well as events in other countries. Particularly of interest are the accounts by diplomats of the various happenings at the court, as well as their interpretations of the events. All in all, a very good biography.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I only read this because it was chosen by my reading group. I wasn't particularly interested in Russian history and when I saw it was nearly 600 pages long I thought I would never finish it. However, my imagination was captured by the descriptions of her early life, and I sailed through it in a week. I thought this was a very sympathetic portrait of a woman who became an autocrat, and could so easily have been a cruel tyrant. The author captures a good picture of court life in Russia and the machinations of the privileged to influence the Empress towards their own ends. I particularly liked the descriptions of the long journeys made by the court on its travels. I would recommend this to anyone as a good introduction to this period in Russian history.
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Format: Hardcover
To write a comprehensive biography of the life of Catherine II of Russia would be an epic undertaking. She was a complex and contradictory woman and ruler: a lady of the Enlightenment and social reformer, yet a convinced autocrat; a minor German princess who became one of Russia's greatest leaders; a devoted life-partner to Grigory Potemkin who still found time for a series of favourites.

Rounding states clearly at the outset that it's not her intention to provide that rounded overview, and instead to concentrate on 'Catherine the woman' - the neglected wife, the domineering mother and grandmother, the needy lover, the acquisitive collector, the writer, the patron of the arts.

Unfortunately, stripping out 'Catherine the ruler' also means stripping out most of her greatest achievements - her political, legislative and educational reforms, her expansion of Russia's borders or her cultural Europeanisation of at least the higher levels of society. Consequently, what remains is a far less sympathetic or impressive character than would otherwise be the case: a spendthrift and extravagant socialite attending an endless round of balls, spending a fortune travelling from palace to palace, and - most notoriously - taking a series of lovers to satisfy her emotional and sexual needs.

Whether the reader finds the book satisfying will probably rest on the extent to which he or she is able to accept this very partial view. It's well-researched with copious quotations from letters to, from or about Catherine; it's readable and provides a fine insight into the Russian court of the time. It has any number of interesting asides, ranging from immunisation against smallpox to the logistics of moving a court several thousand miles to and from the Crimea.
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Format: Hardcover
What a virtuoso Ms Rounding is with her material! Every time court intrigue and politics might have threatened to take over she presents an interesting section on gardening, opera, smallpox (particularly riveting!) or some other such social topic. So it's a feast for the general reader as well as being detailed enough for the historian. And how well we now know Catherine! And how I marvelled at the energy, expense and effort of those people with all that toing and froing of the imperial party all over Russia in horse-drawn vehicles! It's a thoroughly enlightening read. I can't think of anybody I would not give to for Christmas.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ms. Rounding's book on Catherine the Great highlights her rightful claim to be called 'Great'. Catherine comes across clearly as a great statesperson that combined strong ambition, intelligence, and vision of her Imperial position and place in history. She expected unvarnished and well-argued counsel from her advisors to ensure reasoned decisions of state and consistent with her championing the Age of Enlightenment and the welfare of her peoples.

In addition to these strong 'professional' attributes, Ms. Rounding also shows Catherine's human frailty and deep hunger to love and to be loved.

In the end, Ms. Rounding, has brought to life a remarkable ruler that combined statesmanship at the highest level with an insatiable appetite for serious and petty lovers.
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Format: Paperback
I know more about Catherine the Great now than when I started the book. I know that she was Empress of Russia, that she liked indoor decorating, gardening, art and architecture that she had lots of lovers (but none of the equestrian variety!), that she didn't think much of her husband or her son, and that she was (relatively) liberal as monarch until the French Revolution changed her mind.

I am also told (although not until the last page of the book's Epilogue,) that she improved the lot of many of her subjects, and that she had pushed Russia up the rankings in European states: and this is the problem with this otherwise entertaining and interesting book, a lack of context.

Catherine's domestic and foreign policies, the condition of the vast majority of the Russian people, from serfs to landlords, are almost completely ignored: subsumed in an increasingly irritating catalogue of balls, masques,interior decorating tips (for those with huge palaces) and lists of favourites, lovers and relatives.

Despite the witty correspondence with Voltaire and others, and the fact that Catherine was clearly a high calibre political operator, Virginia Rounding has portrayed in the end, a rather shallow, selfish isolated, monarch, existing exclusively for her own pleasure.
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