I don't read a lot of biographies, mainly because they tend to be dry and difficult to really get into.
This biography is a wonderful exception. Written as a narrative biography and impeccably researched, you will come away feeling as though you know almost everything there is to know about Catherine the Great - her life, her marriage(s)? (there is one that may or may not have been a marriage - Mr. Massie offers up excerpts from letters that indicate that she may have had a second marriage), her lovers, her family, her first husband Peter - his personality, overthrow, imprisonment and subsequent death - her children, the intrigues between Prussia, Austria, France, England and Turkey - just a plethora of information that includes information gleaned from letters, writing, and other historical accounts.
Peter didn't consummate his marriage to Catherine for nine years
None of Catherine's children were biologically Peter's
Elizabeth, a fickle empress, kept Peter and Catherine under her thumb with harsh overseers and virtually no outside sommunication
Catherine's own written memoirs end on her 29th birthday
When Catherine first took the throne, she had a goal of gradually freeing the serfs, but found that it would be almost impossible to do. The French Revolution and the mayhem and executions that followed put that idea completely out of her mind.
Catherine may or may not have been married to Gregory Potemkin
I had only a few quibbles with this novel - there were a couple of instances of fact repeating, where something would be stated on one page and a few pages later, the same thing would be repeated. There was also mention of her three children, all born from different lovers, but two of them disappear from the pages, so much so that midway through:
Except for her son, Paul, and, later, her grandchildren, she had no family, and to Grimm alone she could pour out her thoughts and feelings as she might have done with a fond uncle or an older brother.
I would have liked to know a bit more about what happened to her other son and daughter.
The book almost faithfully follows a chronological sequence, except toward the end, when quite a few non-related items that weren't mentioned earlier in the reading are gone into.
I applaud this book as a wonderful, fully fact-based representation of a fascinating woman.
QUOTES (from an ARC; may be different in final copy):
On Diderot: The man she saw before her possessed a "high brow receding on a half-bald head; large rustic ears and a big bent nose, firm mouth ..[and] brown eyes, heavy and sad, as if recalling unrecallable errors, or realizing the indestructibility of superstition, or noting the high birth rate of simpletons."
On love: Desire for love and sex played little part in attracting her lovers to her; they were motivated by ambition, desire for prestige, wealth, and, in some cases, power. Catherine knew this.
It was Catherine's wish, however, that the deterioration of their private relationship be kept hidden. Peter, lacking both the inner resources and Catherine's consuming ambition, could put on no such show. Smallpox had delivered a shattering blow to his mental as well as his physical health; his gross disfigurement had affected his psychological balance.
Catherine soon realized that the harsh treatment of Maria Zhukova was a clear signal to everyone in the young court that those who were suspected of closeness to either Catherine or Peter were liable to find themselves, on one pretext or another, transferred, dismissed, disgraced, or even imprisoned.
BOOK RATING: 4.75 out of 5 starsshow more
by Julie Smith