A minor princess from the German backwater of Anhalt-Zerbst, Catherine the Great parlayed a loveless marriage into rule after her unattractive husband, Peter III, was deposed in a bloodless coup. Six months later, Peter was dead, strangled by the brother of a court favorite. (There is no evidence that Catherine colluded in his murder.) Intelligent and energetic, Catherine was influenced by Montesquieu, Beccaria, and the English jurist Blackstone and soon set about reforming her backward empire. A patron of the arts and letters, she corresponded with Voltaire, d'Alembert, and Diderot. Her attempts to lighten the burden on the Russian serfs failed, but she improved domestic administration and established a permanent footprint in the West when the last parts of independent Poland were absorbed into Russia in 1795. Dixon effectively details the minutiae of court life, explicating the importance of display in signaling imperial power. He doesn't slight Catherine's numerous affairs but notes that she didn't confuse affairs of the heart with affairs of state. This admirable biography elucidates aspects of Catherine's life-both what she did and did not achieve in a long and colorful reign-and is warmly recommended for both specialists and readers new to the subject.
“Like Catherine herself, Simon Dixon’s new biography is attractive, engaging, and very intelligent. It wears its scholarship lightly, too, but established fans of the Russian empress will find plenty of new material and those who are meeting her for the first time will be dazzled.”
Simon Sebag Montefiore
“There is lots new in this superb biography . . . [Dixon] manages to be scholarly, refreshing, commonsensical and compelling, vividly portraying the charismatic Empress and her times.”
From the Publisher
'a concise and closely argued study of a crucial period in the making of Russia'BBC History 'a splendid book, thoughtful, graceful, and insightful' Russian Review 'a stimulating and lively study...contributes not only to our understanding of Catherine's Russia but puts the Russian experience firmly within the broader context of ancient regime' History