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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
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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Review Details

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Charles Vasey
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: London, England

Top Reviewer Ranking: 248