Robert K. Massie returns with another masterpiece narrative biography, the 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 to Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of vast and backward Russian empire. She corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.
Reaching throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the "benevolent despot" idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered; 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 Europe. Her reputation depended 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 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; 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. 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.
- History, Biography + Autobiography
- Europe / Russia + the Former Soviet Union, Royalty
- Random House, Inc.
- November 8, 2011
- November 8, 2011
- Robert K. Massie