[Massie] has always been a biographer with the instincts of a novelist. He understands plot—fate—as a function of character. The narrative perspective he establishes and maintains, a vision tightly aligned with that of his subject, convinces a reader he’s not so much looking at Catherine the Great as he is out of her eyes.... One of the unexpected pleasures of “Catherine the Great” is that the degree to which Massie invites us to identify with his subject as she grows and changes in a role she began cultivating herself to attain at the age of 14.
Kathryn Harris - New York Times Book Review
This is indeed a "Portrait of a Woman," as the subtitle declares, with plenty of attention paid to Catherine's emotions and psychology. It is also an adept portrait of a ruler, sympathetically assessing Catherine as a worthy successor to Peter the Great in the effort to modernize and westernize the vast Russian empire. Historians may wish Massie had devoted more time to underlying forces in Russian society that defined the limits of Catherine's achievements, but general readers will find this an absorbing, satisfying biography of the old school.
Wendy Smith - Los Angeles Times
As he did in Nicholas and Alexandra and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Peter the Great, Massie immerses the reader in Russian history and culture. The author, 82, is clearly enraptured by his extraordinary heroine and by the end, so is the reader. Even bone-deep anti-monarchists will find themselves cheering on this absolute despot.What a woman, what a world, what a biography.
Massie writes a lively account of Catherine's life and her reign. His clearly drawn depictions of the schemes, jealousies and maneuvers of the court, and of Catherine, bring the era and the woman to life. The book is big. It has to be to cover the scope of Catherine's life. But it is so engrossing, it's a quick read.
Mary Foster - Associated Press for Denver Post
In Catherine the Great, Massie has created a sensitive and compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman.
(Starred review.) The Pulitzer-winning biographer of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great, Massie now relates the life of a minor German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia (1729–1796). She was related through her ambitious mother to notable European royalty; her husband-to-be, the Russian grand duke Peter, was the only living grandson of Peter the Great. As Massie relates, during her disastrous marriage to Peter, Catherine bore three children by three different lovers, and she and Peter were controlled by Peter’s all-powerful aunt, Empress Elizabeth, who took physical possession of Catherine’s firstborn, Paul. Six months into her husband’s incompetent reign as Peter III, Catherine, 33, who had always believed herself superior to her husband, dethroned him, but probably did not plan his subsequent murder, though, Massie writes, a shadow of suspicion hung over her. Confident, cultured, and witty, Catherine avoided excesses of personal power and ruled as a benevolent despot. Magnifying the towering achievements of Peter the Great, she imported European culture into Russia, from philosophy to medicine, education, architecture, and art. Effectively utilizing Catherine’s own memoirs, Massie once again delivers a masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.
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