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Publisher's Summary

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.”
©2011 Robert K. Massie (P)2011 Random House
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Elizabeth on 02-05-12

Loved everyone minute!

Robert Massie did an excellent job telling this incredible story of Catherine the Great. The narration was equally excellent. I should make a note that I was a little concerned about buying this book in audible form. I find that stories about royal families and their subjects can get a bit confusing when it comes to lineage, who did what…etc so I typically buy hardcopy books so I can refresh my memory by looking at previous chapters. I clearly didn't need to worry about that with this audible version. The story was well organized and the author takes the time to refresh the readers’ memory from time to time. I was disappointed to reach the end. Now I am going to purchase Peter the Great from the same author. I can't wait!

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29 of 30 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Ross on 01-15-12

She's Great, He's Not

If you could sum up Catherine the Great in three words, what would they be?

Absorbing, fascinating and unlikely

Who was your favorite character and why?

In any telling of the life of Catherine the Great, Catherine must be the central character. Nobody but Catherine herself could have invented her.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

It is clear that the narrator is simply reading words (which he does quite well) but has no deeper connection to the subject. Constant and consistent mispronunciation of Russian German and French words and names (and not just the difficult ones) are distracting and make one think he did no preparation. This may seem like a trivial point, but a good reading is one where one feels like the narrator knows what he/she is talking about and that is not the case here.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There are genuinely amusing, genuinely moving and genuinely horrifying moments.

Any additional comments?

This is a well paced and lively telling of a great story. It does not dig very deep into the history of the period, the mind of the protagonist or the culture of the period. But presents the information that it does provide in a manner that is clear and understandable for anyone with no background on the subject and that is no small accomplishment

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25 of 26 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Jim on 05-29-13

What a woman!

Her diaries do bring the first half to life but I didn't really feel like it lagged in the second half as other reviewers have suggested. It's a great story; she's likeable and impressive enough that you root for her throughout; the cast of characters is astonishingly compelling and once her own version of events peters out as a source for the author he draws on plenty of other sources to document a landscape of egomanical European princelings; hyperventilating Russian nobles; a sort of revolving door of lovers; a pantomime villain mother and a husband straight out of Blackadder.

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

4 out of 5 stars
By Mette on 12-23-12

Great book about a great woman

I'm a history geek - and proud of it. I like biographies - and this one is among the best I've ever heard. Narration is great, and the book so well written it's hard to put my earplugs away. When I give it four stars instead of five it's due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of Russian names - pretty damn hard to keep track at times - especially in the part that describes Catherines coup. Other than that a great read - or ...hear ;D

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4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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