Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

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Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie was a book that read on a whim. I was testing out my new phone and wondered how well the OverDrive app would sync with the app on my tablet. To test it, I downloaded Catherine the Great from my local library and started to read.

Robert K. Massie in turn delivered a fascinating story about a discouraged and unloved young Prussian princess who had high expectations for her life. The young girl wanted to be powerful, and she intended to find a way to be so. When the story began in Prussia, I was at first startled: I thought Catherine the Great was a Russian Empress. The strong personality of the young girl and the intrigue into how? kept me reading. 

Sometimes when I read adult-length biographies, they drag on and on. I begin to stop caring about the person long before their life comes to a satisfying conclusion. But in Mr. Massie’s writing, the story of Catherine’s life only seemed to become more interesting, first because of the odd marriage partner she had in her mid-1700s arranged marriage (he apparently never consummated their marriage) but also because of the domineering figure of Empress Elizabeth, whose main concern was the future of Russia. Later, using her connections and her ambition, however, Catherine was able to overpower her weak-minded husband she became empress of Russia.

Her political ideals, her romantic intrigues, Catherine’s struggle to overcome her image as a Prussian usurper: all of these aspects of her life contributed to a portrait of an impressive woman, as the subtitle suggests it will. Catherine’s life was based on the fact that she was a woman, and yet she did not use the potential discrimination against her but rather as a stepping stone towards more power. Her lovers, her history, and her political prudence helped her maintain her power.

Although I had not been familiar with Russian history at this time, really at all, I was fascinated by Catherine’s story. Now I need to read more classical Russian literature (which was to flower in the years following Catherine’s reign) and continue to see where Catherine’s legacy led.

Reviewed on August 5, 2015

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I LOVED this book! I chose it for my library book group in 2013 and it was one of my top reads of the year. And despite the length, I had a great turnout for the group and everyone loved it. It was fascinating and I want to read more books by Massie.

  • I really enjoy bios and I’ve long wanted to read this one and learn more about Russia as well as Catherine. Thanks for a review that made me want to move this book higher on my TBR list.

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