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Great Catherine

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From the moment the fourteen-year-old Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst agreed to marry the heir to the Russian throne, she was mired in a quicksand of intrigue. Precociously intelligent, self-confident, and attractive but with a stubborn, wayward streak, Sophia withstood a degree of emotional battering that would have broken a weaker spirit until at last she emerged, triumphant over her many enemies, as Empress Catherine II of Russia.

Her achievements as empress were prodigious....

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From the moment the fourteen-year-old Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst agreed to marry the heir to the Russian throne, she was mired in a quicksand of intrigue. Precociously intelligent, self-confident, and attractive but with a stubborn, wayward streak, Sophia withstood a degree of emotional battering that would have broken a weaker spirit until at last she emerged, triumphant over her many enemies, as Empress Catherine II of Russia.

Her achievements as empress were prodigious. She brought vast new lands under Russian rule. She raised the prestige of Russia in Europe. She began the process of imposing legal and political order on the chaos she inherited from her predecessors. Yet few historical figures have been so enthusiastically vilified as Catherine the Great. Whispers that she had ordered her husband's murder grew to murmurs that she was an immoral woman and finally to shouts that she was a depraved, lust-crazed nymphomaniac. With deft mastery of historical narrative and an unsurpassed ability to make the past live again, Carolly Erickson uncovers the real woman behind the tarnished image—an indomitable, feisty, often visionary ruler who, in an age of caveats and constraints, blithely went her own way.

Great Catherine reveals the complexities of this great ruler's nature, her craving for love, her insecurities, the inevitable sorrows and disappointments of a strong empress who dared not share her power with any man yet longed to be led and guided by a loving consort. Great Catherine is a fresh portrait of an infamous historical figure, one that reveals how Catherine's flawed triumph guaranteed her posthumous fame and enhanced the might and renown of Russia for generations to come.

This popular biography of the renowned Russian empress puts its emphasis not on her alleged personal immorality, but rather on the highly capable and intelligent ruler's achievements in bringing the Russian empire closer to European standards of order, economic abundance, and enlightened social welfare. 8-page insert.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the most accomplished and successful historical biographers writing in English."—Times Literary Supplement
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
To her critics, Catherine the Great (1729-96), Empress of Russia, was an imperialist who eradicated Polish sovereignty and waged financially draining wars, an absolutist ruler who brought back the defunct secret police, an insatiable sexual adventuress and a possible accomplice in the murder of her husband Peter III. Historian and biographer Erickson ( Blood Mary ), in this sympathetic, vibrant portrait, presents a shrewd, headstrong, cultivated woman, a political reformer and supporter of education and the arts, who codified laws, built schools and asserted her independece in a land where women had low status. Born Sophie Augusta Fredericka, princess of a tiny German state, Catherine (the baptismal name she took upon joining the Russian Orthodox Church) rightly feared her tyrannical, drunken husband who wanted to dethrone her and replace her with his mistress. Catherine's menage a trois with Gregory Potemkin, her chief deputy, and her young Polish secretary, Peter Zavadovsky, elicited an avalanche of censure and gossip. Drawing on Catherine's memoirs and letters, Erickson has fashioned an engrossing, astonishingly vivid, if not always convincing portrait. (June)
Library Journal
Sophie Augusta Fredericka, an obscure German princess from Anhalt-Zerbst, married the heir to the Russian Empire and ended up ruling by herself for 34 years. Before she seized power, she survived the treacherous Russian court by her wits, diligently using her time to study the Russian language and the works of Voltaire, Montesquieu, Tacitus, and Diderot. Erickson To the Scaffold: The Life of Marie Antoinette, LJ 3/1/91 has painted a fascinating picture of an extraordinary woman. Intellectually, Catherine wanted to be an enlightened, Western-style ruler; her subjects turned her into a benevolent despot. She drafted an impressive code of laws, reformed and reorganized the government of her vast empire, and generally improved the economic conditions of her people. She took an important, often belligerent role in foreign relations and was notorious for her liaisons with various men of her court. This sympathetic but balanced and detailed account is based in part on several autobiographies that the empress herself wrote. Recommended for most collections.-Katharine Galloway Garstka, Intergraph Corp., Huntsville, Ala.
School Library Journal
YA-When the German Princess Sophia journeyed to the Russian court of Empress Elizabeth, the shy young woman could not have believed that she would transform herself into the powerful Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Clever, witty, and deeply devoted to her adopted country, Catherine would work to turn Russia toward the West by focusing on European life, customs, culture, and the arts. After being married to the weak, demented Grand Duke Peter, she suffered from constant abuse and intrigue at his hands, but she never let him destroy her courageous spirit and determination. While many biographers of this fascinating ruler have focused on Catherine's love life and the extravagances of the Russian court, Erickson has chosen to relate Catherine's story by emphasizing her ambition to govern wisely. The strong narrative moves along at a brisk pace without stinting on the vivid details that bring the court of 18th-century Imperial Russia into sharp focus. The author captures the intellectual and social milieu as well as the brilliant, often opulent lifestyle of Empress Catherine II. An accessible and engaging introduction to a great ruler and the country she sought to enlighten.-Mary T. Gerrity, Queen Anne School Library, Upper Marlboro, MD
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312135034
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2000
  • Edition description: REV
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 569,760
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Distinguished historian Carolly Erickson is the author of Rival to the Queen, The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, The First Elizabeth, The Hidden Life of Josephine, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, and many other prize-winning works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. She lives in Hawaii.

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