Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
By: Robert K. Massie
I had originally intended to read Catherine the Great. I had heard some buzz about it when it first came out, but for some reason, I wasn’t that interested. However, apparently some people know me better than I know myself and I received a copy as a Christmas gift, so I gave it a go and was immediately hooked.
I hadn’t read anything by Massie and I really didn’t know much about Catherine the Great before starting the book, but I now hold both of them in much higher esteem. Massie wrote a great book – clearly well-researched but incredibly readable. It largely tells the story of her life chronologically, but a few chapters veer off near the end to focus on specific themes that spanned her life, like her “favorites” (a.k.a. her lovers). He captures her personality, her motivation, and the important people in her life without getting overly bogged down in details like a lot of biographies can.
As for Catherine, I now understand why they call her “The Great”. She was just a kick-ass woman in a time when a lot of women, even royalty, weren’t all that strong. She was a self-taught “student of the enlightenment” (Massie’s term) and she tried to bring some democratic principles to Russia before the Revolutionary War even took place in the States. She was a voracious reader, well-spoken, well-written, and incredibly well-versed in all things Russia, despite not even being Russian born. She expanded her empire, defended her people, and played hard-ball with her enemies. On top of all this, she seemed like a charming and relatable person. Massie included a number of excerpts from her letters and self-written memoirs and I got a good feel for her personality - I think I might like hanging out with her (you know, if I could go back in time a couple hundred years).
Yes, I have totally developed a girl crush on Catherine the Great.
In a nutshell: Four stars. A great biography on a fascinating person. I will definitely be reading Massie’s other books on the Romanovs and Peter the Great.