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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting biography
Catherine the Great is an iconic female monarch, known even to those who have never glanced at Russian history. Her reign ushered in something of a golden age for much of Russia, symbolized by cultural and physical expansion, the effects of which were felt for decades after her reign had concluded. In this biography of Catherine, Robert K. Massie covers the entirety of...
Published 16 months ago by M. K. Burton

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars A slow read
It is very wordy. Lots of details but feels a slow read. I got half way through and did not finish it
Published 2 months ago by Patricia Middleton


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A riveting biography, 6 April 2013
By 
M. K. Burton - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
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Catherine the Great is an iconic female monarch, known even to those who have never glanced at Russian history. Her reign ushered in something of a golden age for much of Russia, symbolized by cultural and physical expansion, the effects of which were felt for decades after her reign had concluded. In this biography of Catherine, Robert K. Massie covers the entirety of her life, from her origins as a relatively modest German daughter of a prince, through her disastrous marriage to the heir to the Russian throne, until her death as one of Russia's greatest rulers.

Massie's biography looks intimidating, at almost 600 pages long in hardcover in my edition, but his narrative of the flow of Catherine's life is incredibly smooth and easy to read. I actually managed to read a lot in one sitting and in parts it could almost read like fiction, which makes this a very accessible non-fiction read. I can imagine most readers enjoying this if they have an interest in imperial Russia and Catherine's long reign. Massie also makes Catherine easy to relate to; he draws from her letters and her own memoirs to try and build her character and explore how she might have been feeling through her life.

I didn't like that there seemed to be little connection to Massie's sources aside from the originals, though, and the notes aren't marked in the text, which I didn't like either. A lot of the start of the book is based on Catherine's memoirs, which means that we have to take her word for the way that things happened, and I'd have liked some sort of evidence of external sources corroborating what she says. In reality Massie consulted a lot of sources, but it's really hard to see what's coming from where. It made it difficult for me at least to trust what he was saying.

That said, though, I liked how comprehensive this book was and how well it was structured. It roughly follows Catherine's life chronologically as the book is separated into sections, but each chapter within those sections tends to deal with just one subject. This made it very easy to follow what was happening in Catherine's life at any given time, but also allowed the author to delve deeper into each subject. As I said earlier, it's very easy to feel sympathy for Catherine, and the frequent quoting from her memoirs and letters helps us as readers feel as though we are actually learning about the real woman. Because Massie starts at the beginning of her life, we can understand some of the motivations she's had for later actions. In addition, Massie never passes judgement on her for any of her actions, which makes him a valuable biographer for a woman who often gains undeserved negative press for the number of "favorites" she had (when male monarchs did the same without any note).

He follows the shifts in her political focus easily, too, and traces how the relative enlightened idealism of her youth is crushed by the realities of ruling a country, an aspect of the book that I found particularly fascinating. But again, he doesn't pass judgement on her; he doesn't judge her for her inability to free Russia's serfs, for her eventual censoring of the press after the French Revolution, or for any of her other political actions which don't particularly match up with current beliefs. Catherine's actions were not always ones that we would agree with, but Massie leaves it to readers to decide, without attempting to influence them. I found this quite valuable.

A riveting biography, Catherine the Great is a complete picture of the last, and greatest, female monarch of Russia. For anyone who enjoys history, this book would be an exceptional choice.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hefty tome that taught me a lot - warts and all!, 17 July 2012
By 
Henk Beentje "Henk Beentje" (Kew, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
Massie has written an accessible and very informative biography of Catherine II of Russia, after her death (and against her will) called 'the Great'. This book shows you why she was indeed great, albeit with drawbacks! Coming to Russia as a young bride-to-be at fourteen, she had to endure eighteen years of more-or-less isolation before she became an, and flowered as, Empress; and Russia flowered with her. She introduced literature and education, founded a world-class art collection, divided Poland not once but three times, got Russia the Crimea and ports on the Black Sea; and in general continued the tradition of Peter the Great.
I have enjoyed Massie's biography of Peter the Great before, as well as his magisterial books 'Dreadnought' and 'Castles of Steel'; I found this volume on Catherine slightly more difficult to get into than these others. The beginning of the book comes over a bit more belaboured, and with bits of what I thought were cod-psychology; but soon that fades and Massie's usual style takes over. Tthe reader is swept along with the story, being educated as s/he goes, what with the effortless prose and mastely treatment of complex subjects; Massie makes it look easy and accessible, with asides on politics elsewhere in Europe that have a bearing on the main story. After that initial hiccup, very well written and hugely informative for a novice like me!
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Narrative History In The Grand Manner, 12 Sep 2012
By 
Charles Vasey (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
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Robert Massie writes old fashioned history, his books have heroes and heroines (and we know for whom we are rooting) and they proceed in the direction of Time's Arrow. There is very little overt analytical work or discussion of the place of the topic in history. What we have instead is a modern form of Geste, Epic or Saga. It is my suspicion that most readers prefer this to the more diffuse works even if those works appear more scholarly. At times the story can be almost gossipy in a way that draws in the reader, though I would prefer a little more analysis. I was reminded as I read of a late friend, a descendant of Catherine as it happens, who had been entering the last stages of cancer. He needed something to read that was interesting but not too dense, I gave him DREADNOUGHT. He enjoyed it greatly especially as the grandsons of the major players were personal friends of his and he recognised their characters in Massie's description of their forbears.

Massie has certainly selected a worthy subject for this narrative. Catherine The Great rose from comparative nothingness (a minor princess) to ruling a very large empire on the strength (possibly) of an unconsummated marriage and the support of the Imperial Guard. This was a remarkable performance, she had become more expert at being Russian than most Russians. She then proceeded to live life just the way she pleased, taking numerous lovers and young male companions, expanding Russia at the expense of the Sublime Porte and Poland, collecting vast numbers of old masters and fighting off a massive cossack rising. She was the equal of some redoubtable political operators even if, ultimately, she failed to resolve the inherent problems of the Russian state. This is a story that, if written as a novel, would be roundly derided as implausible. Small wonder that the author thought the subject worthy of eight years work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Usual excellent writing and research from Robert Massie, 11 Dec 2012
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Have read all of Dr Massie's books over the years and the style and detail certainly appeal to me. Once again the subject matter (Catherine) comes to life and one gains a true insight as opposed to the much-maligned character she is often portrayed as. Dr. Massie provides the historic context so one can see why Catherine behaved as she did.
Anyone who is interested in history (any period) will find this book a little (actually not so little) gem.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it, loved it, 23 Nov 2012
This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
Great, captivating book. I read all 600 pages in a few days. Excellent entertainment, even for the novice historical reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable, 10 Nov 2012
By 
Peter J. Hewitt "history fan!" (Hull, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
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I do enjoy History books, and have read a little on Catherine the Great in other books but never a full book.
It is a Big book and sometimes i did struggle a little but that was mainly due to the subject being not my normal era, but i was intrested and did enjoy it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful Queen, 23 May 2013
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Having a hazy view of Russian History in the 18th century, I read this book with great enjoyment. Catherine instead of being a victim of an arranged marriage and a very unhappy early life used her head to become the most powerful woman in Europe at this time. A good read
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it, 28 Oct 2012
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This is my second book by Robert K Massie. Despite the weight and depth of subject material the author writes with such eloquence and even makes politics enjoyably readable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent, 24 Oct 2012
By 
Mr. Pj Williams (cardiff uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
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As someone who read massies book dreadnought quite a few years ago I was used to his writing style and was happy to see it cross over into his non maritime efforts. I normaly read military history and only dable really in hitsorical biography but enjoyed this immensely. this rather weighty tome was filled with the political intrige that you expect in the russian court inherited from Ivan teh terrible, and follows this rather minor royal`s assecnt to the empress of an empire. I found it slow moving in some parts but stuck with it as you could see the bigger picture forming and wanting to get to see the whole thing which was completly worth it. An excellent book by an excellent author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great, 29 April 2013
By 
M. Baerends - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Catherine the Great: The story of the impoverished German princess who deposed her husband to become tzarina of the largest empire on earth (Hardcover)
Having read Robert Massie's 'Peter the Great' I figured I should have a go at his 'Catherine the Great' - glad I did. Highly recommended.
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