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Catherine the Great

Portrait of a Woman

By , (Narrator)

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About This Book
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra,and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought toNicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.


From the Hardcover edition.
Show less
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra,and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought toNicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.


From the Hardcover edition.
Product Details
Audio Download
Published: July 15, 2012
Publisher: Random House Digital
Imprint: Random House Digital
ISBN: 9780307970206
Other books byRobert K. Massie
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    Nicholas and Alexandra
    In this commanding book, Robert K. Massie, prize-winning author of Catherine the Great, sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives: Nicholas’s political naïveté, Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history—the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.   The Modern Library of the World’s Best Books   These Robert K. Massie books are available in Modern Library editions   Nicholas and Alexandra   “A magnificent and intimate picture . . . Not only the main characters but a whole era become alive and comprehensible.”—Harper’s   Peter the Great Winner of the Pulitzer Prize   “Enthralling . . . as fascinating as any novel and more so than most.”—The New York Times Book Review   The Romanovs   “Riveting . . . unfolds like a detective story.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review

    Castles of Steel

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    In a work of extraordinary narrative power, filled with brilliant personalities and vivid scenes of dramatic action, Robert K. Massie, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and Dreadnought, elevates to its proper historical importance the role of sea power in the winning of the Great War. The predominant image of this first world war is of mud and trenches, barbed wire, machine guns, poison gas, and slaughter. A generation of European manhood was massacred, and a wound was inflicted on European civilization that required the remainder of the twentieth century to heal. But with all its sacrifice, trench warfare did not win the war for one side or lose it for the other. Over the course of four years, the lines on the Western Front moved scarcely at all; attempts to break through led only to the lengthening of the already unbearably long casualty lists. For the true story of military upheaval, we must look to the sea. On the eve of the war in August 1914, Great Britain and Germany possessed the two greatest navies the world had ever seen. When war came, these two fleets of dreadnoughts—gigantic floating castles of steel able to hurl massive shells at an enemy miles away—were ready to test their terrible power against each other. Their struggles took place in the North Sea and the Pacific, at the Falkland Islands and the Dardanelles. They reached their climax when Germany, suffocated by an implacable naval blockade, decided to strike against the British ring of steel. The result was Jutland, a titanic clash of fifty-eight dreadnoughts, each the home of a thousand men. When the German High Seas Fleet retreated, the kaiser unleashed unrestricted U-boat warfare, which, in its indiscriminate violence, brought a reluctant America into the war. In this way, the German effort to “seize the trident” by defeating the British navy led to the fall of the German empire. Ultimately, the distinguishing feature of Castles of Steel is the author himself. The knowledge, understanding, and literary power Massie brings to this story are unparalleled. His portrayals of Winston Churchill, the British admirals Fisher, Jellicoe, and Beatty, and the Germans Scheer, Hipper, and Tirpitz are stunning in their veracity and artistry. Castles of Steel is about war at sea, leadership and command, courage, genius, and folly. All these elements are given magnificent scope by Robert K. Massie’s special and widely hailed literary mastery. From the Hardcover edition.

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    Peter the Great: His Life and World

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