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Amanda VaillAt the outset, Rounding proclaims herself uninterested in writing "a definitive once-and-for-all biography, containing everything that is known about Catherine."…Instead, Rounding focuses on the pageant of Russian court ceremonies (of which, fascinating as they are, we hear too much) and on Catherine's personal and romantic life: her love for her grandchildren and her greyhounds, her testy relationship with her autocratic son, her sharp eye for a good painting, her dry wit, her appetite for ideas. Rounding makes copious use of the documentary evidence that Catherine and her courtiers left behind. The quantity of letters and memoirs she quotes from makes one wish that Rounding had dared to speak up more herself because she is a perceptive analyst of character, and a stylish one. She paints a vivid portrait of a sensual and intellectual woman. Catherine had both a desperate need to love and be loved and an awareness of how capricious that need was. "One cannot hold one's heart in one's hand," she wrote in her memoirs, "forcing it or releasing it, tightening or relaxing one's grasp at will." One wishes that some contemporary rulers, their romantic foibles revealed for the world to see, had been so candid or so self-aware.
—The Washington Post