Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Audiobook CD) by Robert K. Massie

Apr 25, 2012

This very enjoyable and engaging non-fiction book is a detailed biography of one of the great female rulers, Catherine the Great of Russia.  She was born Sophia, a minor German princess, and was just 14 years old when she was summoned by the Russian court. She took control of her own destiny, determined to save herself and her adopted country.  Intelligent as well as charming, Catherine recognized the importance of learning Russian as well as embracing the rituals of the Orthodox religion. Although she did not have any Russian blood circulating in her veins, she came to embody Russia and become Catherine the Great. Catherine is depicted as a liberal and enlightened monarch who won the hearts of her future subjects through her hard work, devotion to politics and establishment of contacts with the western world.  She brought Russia to the modern age through her encouragement of the arts, education and medical care. She set an example for her subjects by taking the first small-pox vaccine. She separated the powers of church and state. She patronized and brought to the Russian court French Enlightenment philosophers Voltaire and Diderot and later exchanged lengthy correspondence with them. The account of her personal relationship with her advisors displays her more personal qualities and weaknesses. The book touches on the causes of French Revolution and the events in the American territories contemporary to her times.

This well written biography serves as a great account of a Ruler who is widely known but very misunderstood. The details from her personal life are drawn from her diary and personal correspondence. The book has essentially two parts. The first part of the book is about her arrival to the Russian court and her relationship with Empress Elizabeth and about her difficult marriage.  This second part describes her reign up to her death.  A reader of this book does not have to have any prior knowledge of Russian history, as the book is fairly detailed. The book on CD was a good alternative for me to the 600 page book.  The printed book version includes images of the Russian jewels, several portraits of Catherine the Great, as well as that of several dynamic characters depicted in the book.  The book is recommended to anyone interested in the history of Czarist Russia and its connections to other European royal houses. Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert K. Massie has written several prior books on the Russian royal court and the history of the Romanovs.


Reviewed by Library Staff