Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2011: Once upon a time, there was a minor German princess named
Sophia. In 1744, at the age of 14, she was taken by her ambitious mother--removed from her family, her religion, and her
country--to a foreign land with a single goal: marry a prince and bear him an heir. Once in Russia, she changed her
name, learned the language, and went on to become the world's richest and most powerful woman, ruler of its then-largest
empire. She is remembered as Catherine the Great.
There may be no better author than Robert K. Massie to take on the daunting task of documenting this most rare of
human lives. Massie, a former president of the Authors Guild, is a seasoned biographer of the 400-year Romanov dynasty,
most notably with Peter the Great: His Life and World, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and remains one of the most
arresting biographies I've even encountered.
In his page-turning chronicle of Catherine II, Massie (now 82) compiles the most complete and compelling narrative to
date of this singular woman. Married to an incompetent man-child who was unwilling or unable to help her fulfill her
primary role--giving birth to a son--she ultimately grew to become a trailblazer among monarchs: friend of philosophical
giants, incomparable patron of the arts, prosecutor of multiple wars, pioneer of public health, maker of kings, and
prodigious serial lover.
Indeed, her accomplishments and shortcomings as an autocrat and a woman make for a remarkable saga, but that's not to
say that just any author could do justice to Catherine's lasting legacy. (Many have tried.) Massie situates Catherine's
early life and three-decade reign as empress amidst the tumult of the European Enlightenment, enriching his own
narrative with telling excerpts of her letters and rich discussions of her political environment and personal
Put simply, Massie is just the man to take this endlessly fascinating life and craft an utterly memorable book.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is a towering accomplishment, one of the year's best books in any genre.
Featured Images from Catherine the Great
The imperial coronation crown designed for Catherine. The crown was used in all six of the Romanov coronations
Catherine's coronation portrait. She is wearing her new imperial crown.
Paul, Catherine's son, in one of the Prussian uniforms he delighted in wearing.
Portrait of Peter III
Gregory Orlov, Catherine's third lover, who was with her for eleven years and helped to put her on the throne.
Gregory Potemkin, covered with medals, titles, land, palaces, and responsibilities by a passionately loving