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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

77 out of 87 people found this review helpful.

This is a gem

Catherine II, Empress of all the Russians, is known as one of the most powerful and hard working people in history. Many writers and historians have not always been sympathetic to her regarding her private life and have overlooked her achievements when ruling Russia. In...
Catherine II, Empress of all the Russians, is known as one of the most powerful and hard working people in history. Many writers and historians have not always been sympathetic to her regarding her private life and have overlooked her achievements when ruling Russia. In contrast, Mr. Massie has written a stellar biography of Catherine that tells the reader what an accomplished and remarkable woman she became. Catherine was born in Stettin, in 1729. Stettin was then Germany and is now Poland. Her father was Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst, a prince of a lesser-known family among the many principalities in Germany. Her mother, Princess Johanna of Holstein-Gottorp, was much younger than the Prince but was from a much higher-ranked family. She was given the name: Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst. After Sophia was born, her mother became bored with the provincial life of Stettin, where her husband was a high ranking officer in the Prussian Army. As Johanna was related to many noble families in Germany, she took every opportunity to travel to the courts of Zerbst, Hamburg, Brunswick, Kiel and even Berlin. Many years before this, Johanna's brother Prince Karl August of Holstein-Gottorp had gone to Russia to marry the Princess Elizabeth Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great. Before the wedding took place, the Prince died of small pox, leaving Elizabeth heart-broken. Elizabeth's nephew, son of her sister Anna, came to St. Petersburg when his parents died at Elizabeth's behest and was named as the heir to the throne of Russia as his mother and Aunt were daughters of Peter the Great of Russia. In November of the year 1741, Princess Elizabeth seized the throne with the help of the Imperial Guards, formally declaring her nephew Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp the heir to the throne. When she brought him to St. Petersburg she changed his name to Grand Duke Peter Fedorovich, the future Tzar Peter III. Peter was now 14 years old and it was time to look for a bride for him. Elizabeth remembered fondly the family of Karl August, whom she had been engaged to marry and invited the Princess Johanna, sister of her deceased fiance and the Princess Sophia to come to St. Petersberg to meet the heir to the throne and plan a wedding between the two young people. Sophia's name was changed to Catherine II and she went on to marry the future Peter III. She was treated badly by Peter and looked for companionship elsewhere with young men of the court. Her favorite companion was Gregory Potempkin by whom, it was said, she had her child Paul, who became heir to the throne. While she was Empress, she dealt with the many trials and tribulations of her country and looked after the welfare of the Russian people. She was praised by many and, as usual, condemned by some - and the author has remarked on all of her triumphs and failures. Her family, friends, enemies, lovers, etc. are all told about in abundance, including her mother, forever making plans that made her look good, and her husband who had nothing to do with her, ignoring her most of the time. This story is grand and glorious as are Robert Massie's previous works: (Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great: His Life and World). The story is accurate, the characters very true to life, with much style and detail. Quill Says: For readers of history, this is a gem. A life story of an extraordinary woman which is very rich in color and drama.

posted by FeatheredQuillBookReviews on September 26, 2011

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Most Helpful Critical Review

4 out of 36 people found this review helpful.

TEST1

TEST

posted by eyyman on November 10, 2011

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a gem

    Catherine II, Empress of all the Russians, is known as one of the most powerful and hard working people in history. Many writers and historians have not always been sympathetic to her regarding her private life and have overlooked her achievements when ruling Russia. In contrast, Mr. Massie has written a stellar biography of Catherine that tells the reader what an accomplished and remarkable woman she became. Catherine was born in Stettin, in 1729. Stettin was then Germany and is now Poland. Her father was Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst, a prince of a lesser-known family among the many principalities in Germany. Her mother, Princess Johanna of Holstein-Gottorp, was much younger than the Prince but was from a much higher-ranked family. She was given the name: Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst. After Sophia was born, her mother became bored with the provincial life of Stettin, where her husband was a high ranking officer in the Prussian Army. As Johanna was related to many noble families in Germany, she took every opportunity to travel to the courts of Zerbst, Hamburg, Brunswick, Kiel and even Berlin. Many years before this, Johanna's brother Prince Karl August of Holstein-Gottorp had gone to Russia to marry the Princess Elizabeth Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great. Before the wedding took place, the Prince died of small pox, leaving Elizabeth heart-broken. Elizabeth's nephew, son of her sister Anna, came to St. Petersburg when his parents died at Elizabeth's behest and was named as the heir to the throne of Russia as his mother and Aunt were daughters of Peter the Great of Russia. In November of the year 1741, Princess Elizabeth seized the throne with the help of the Imperial Guards, formally declaring her nephew Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp the heir to the throne. When she brought him to St. Petersburg she changed his name to Grand Duke Peter Fedorovich, the future Tzar Peter III. Peter was now 14 years old and it was time to look for a bride for him. Elizabeth remembered fondly the family of Karl August, whom she had been engaged to marry and invited the Princess Johanna, sister of her deceased fiance and the Princess Sophia to come to St. Petersberg to meet the heir to the throne and plan a wedding between the two young people. Sophia's name was changed to Catherine II and she went on to marry the future Peter III. She was treated badly by Peter and looked for companionship elsewhere with young men of the court. Her favorite companion was Gregory Potempkin by whom, it was said, she had her child Paul, who became heir to the throne. While she was Empress, she dealt with the many trials and tribulations of her country and looked after the welfare of the Russian people. She was praised by many and, as usual, condemned by some - and the author has remarked on all of her triumphs and failures. Her family, friends, enemies, lovers, etc. are all told about in abundance, including her mother, forever making plans that made her look good, and her husband who had nothing to do with her, ignoring her most of the time. This story is grand and glorious as are Robert Massie's previous works: (Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great: His Life and World). The story is accurate, the characters very true to life, with much style and detail. Quill Says: For readers of history, this is a gem. A life story of an extraordinary woman which is very rich in color and drama.

    77 out of 87 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Amazing

    Description:
    Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is the biography of Sophia Augusta, later known as Russian Empress Catherine the Great. It details Sophia's childhood, marriage, children, affairs, rise to power, famed coup, and eventual death. It is based on recorded historical documents and on Catherine's memoirs.

    Review:
    I have never read any other books by Robert K. Massie, but now I'm hooked. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman is one of the most well-researched and compelling biographies that I have read to-date. The history contained in its 600+ pages is phenomenal, and once I started reading I didn't want to stop. Not only was Catherine the Great a strong-willed, clever, and courageous leader, but an amazing woman who was years ahead of her time. The book was laid out in typical biographical format, birth to death, but Massie's mastery of description and detail put the book in another class entirely. I felt like I was reading a gripping fictional account of the empress as she ruled and fought for equality and preservation of the Russian state, instead of a dry biography filled with dates and facts. I was very impressed with the book's pace as well as the depiction of many famous figures, particularly Diderot, Gregory Potemkin, and d'Alembert. I wish I would have had this book handy for my European history class because I truly feel like I have a better understanding of Russia as a country as well as the politics of the time period. I recommend this to history-lovers, history / literature students, and anyone who wants to experience the awe and majesty of Catherine the Great!

    Rating: On the Run (4.5/5)

    *** I received this ARC from Random House in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

    44 out of 45 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 29, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    great

    I enjoyed reading this book as well as Nicholas and Alexandra and would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history.

    23 out of 24 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2012

    Kept me turning pages

    I never thought I would be interested in the least on the subject of Russian history but I was enthralled with this book! I won't finish a book that doesn't hold my interest but when it was nearing it's close at over 500 pages I wanted to keep reading. Massie is an amazing writer! I read constantly and everything and this is by far the best book I have read in years!

    20 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 22, 2011

    Wonderful biography that reads like a novel

    I was unsure as to whether or not I should spend money on this book as I did not want to get bored and put it down after a chapter of two which is what I normally want to do when reading a biography. Not the case at all. In fact, I am enthralled not only by this amazing woman, Catherine the Great, who was much ahead of of time, but by Massey's wonderful writing skills. The book absolutely flows.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 18, 2011

    Great Book for a Great Woman

    I haven't read Massie's other books about his obsession, Russia under the tsars, but if the others are anything like Catherine, then I have no doubt about why he's received a Pulitzer and why this book was so highly anticipated. Compulsively readable, Catherine takes a giant, intimidating subject and makes her accessible. From the first few pages, the reader sees into Catherine's most intimate thoughts through the invaluable resource of her childhood diary. The focus remains sympathetic even while the research provides an overall view of Catherine's time with verifiable facts.

    The reader will come away with a deep understanding of Catherine's problems and decisions. On a more personal note, as a woman reader I appreciated the way Catherine learned to wield power in a man's world and have a significant impact while maintaining a traditionally feminine personality, demonstrated by her appreciation of the arts and fine things and love of pets.

    This book is packed with enough relationship drama and court intrigue to be a novel, while the reader can impress the people he knows with his new knowledge. With Catherine, Massie has made a valuable contribution not only to women's and Russian history, but also to literature. It should be considered a must-read by any student of world culture.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 7, 2011

    Great

    History does not usually make it to the "couldn't put it down" level.
    This one does.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 1, 2012

    Fascinating Page-turner

    From the first page to the last, Catherine the Great captures the reader's attention with it's intimate portrayal of this enlightened, brilliant woman who was born at least a century too soon. Her intellectual quest to befriend and create relationships with the most erudite and philosophical thinkers of the time engendered thousands of letters and documents that have survived over the centuries and provided author Robert Massie with plenty of fodder for research, Massie achieved a phenomenal result, the development of a rich portrait of Catherine that is more than the usual historical text. The book is beautifully written and gives the reader a picture of Catherine, warts and all, that makes her seem all the more "great", a civilized woman ruling a savage nation.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2011

    Fantastic

    This is a wonderful book . It is hard to beleive that this could have really happened,if it were fiction you would think this was too over the top. This book is well written and it holds you interest to the end, a wonderful way to learn history....

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 14, 2012

    INTERESTING, NOT A PAGE TURNER

    I trudged through this one, thinking it would be better as the pages rolled onwards. Wrong! Interesting story told in a pedantic and boring way. It's almost as if Mr. Massie felt he HAD to write another book about Russian monarchy for waht ever reason, but really didn't want to. Based on past works, this one is NOT a page turner, nor even worthy opf the time. Trivial fact after tivial fact, with no substance. Sorry, save your money.

    4 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2012

    Tremendous book. I have really enjoyed Massie's work. I am about

    Tremendous book. I have really enjoyed Massie's work. I am about to finish Nicholas and Alexandra which I believe I have enjoyed even more than this book. If you are at all interested in Russian history, you need to read this Author. I loved the book although I am not sure I really like Catherine the Great. She was a unique characer though and helped shaped the Romanov dynasty and Russa. Massie writes in a style that isn't the classic "slow" non-fiction bogged down in irrelevant details. He relies heavily on primary source material and weaves them into his work in a way that almost make it read like a historical fiction. I also found that much of the rather confusing politics of Europe started to become clearer as I realized just how intertwined these autocracies were. I highly recommend this author and this book.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 17, 2012

    A REMARKABLE BIOGRAPHY ABOUT A REMARKABLE LIFE

    Robert K Massie has done extensive research to bring to us the life and times of a truly remarkable woman! Very indept with details that enlighten the reader with perspective of the life and times of Catherine the Great. She was truly a remarkable woman who wanted nothing more but to bring humanity to a country that was beginning to enter the world stage. She endured much; accomplished much; sacrificed much to build Russia to her vision of what it would become. Mr. Massie tells her story with detail of every aspect of her life. The book reads well, and is extremely interesting throughout. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading the life story of someone truly remarkable living in remarkable times.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2012

    Fabulously entertaining

    Extremely entertaining making learning easy and fun!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This was a good book

    This was a good book

    2 out of 37 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 15, 2012

    Not nearly as engrossing as Nicholas and Alexandra

    I tried hard to like this book, printing a copy of the Russian dynasty
    in order to follow the monarchy historically. After 200 only mildly
    interesting pages, I am giving up and going on to something more
    involving.

    May I say, that I question the practice of allowing ratings by
    people who fail to write a review. I don't think such laziness should
    be granted.

    Thanks for listening.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    A wonerful biography!!

    RK Massie has produced yet another great read. The book is well balanced, easy to read and thoroughly reasearched. I highly reading this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Great read

    One review said too long. Another was upset about the 17 dollars. One reviewer said he was pedantic. A few bad reviews by a very few who quite honestly probably have nothing nice to say about any book. I bought the book at 35 dollars and it had been worth every Penny. I find it difficult to put down. I find myself drawn into this world and to Catherine. The author teaches the reader about a different time and culture without boring you. My only regret, not purchasing on my nook as the book is more difficult to read in bed! If you love history and one hell of write with vivid characters this book will notdisaapoint!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2012

    De4We8

    Too long.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2012

    DJ ICE

    Plays booty work

    1 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2012

    Excellent

    A reader learns about russian history through a mix of drama, military battles, sex, love, and more.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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