Reviews

Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

As with his past best-selling biographies of Russian elites, Pulitzer Prize winner Massie (Peter the Great) does a wonderful job of pulling readers into his narrative, this one taking us into 18th-century Russia and the life of a young German princess, born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, destined to change the course of her adopted country's history. From the young Sophie's journey to Russia at the invitation of Empress Elizabeth to her death after 34 years on the Russian throne (1762-96), readers will be absorbed and in sympathy with Massie's Catherine. His engaging narrative informs and entertains, covering everything from Catherine's friendships, marriage to Peter III, love affairs, political and intellectual beliefs, and attempts to reform the country according to ideals of the Enlightenment (she corresponded with many Enlightenment figures), to her reactions to major world events including the American Revolution and the Reign of Terror in France. VERDICT This book is aimed at the nonspecialist, as Massie does not present new sources or new angles of research. But it's a gripping narrative for general biography or Russian tsarist history buffs, an excellent choice for public, high school, and undergraduate libraries. [See Prepub Alert, 5/9/11.]-Sonnet Ireland, Univ. of New Orleans Lib. (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal
(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra consumed my 30th year, and I'm very happy to report that the Pulitzer Prize winner's new biography of Russia's longest-ruling female leader is doing the same for my 55th. While the books and their subjects inextricably inform one another, they are very different. Nicholas and Alexandra recounted the end of an empire and destruction of a family; Catherine the Great, on the other hand, got pretty much everything she wanted, whether it was the expansion of the Russian Empire's borders or the creation of the era's richest collection of art (Catherine built the Hermitage) or the friendship of such Enlightenment leaders as Voltaire and Diderot. She had three children, perhaps none by her hapless husband, and an almost continuous stream of lovers, dispatching one kindly and with gifts before taking on another. When it came to ruling, she did it Her Way: asked by her adult son Paul for more governmental responsibility, she replied, "I do not think your entrance into the Council would be desirable. You must be patient until I change my mind." Massie gracefully moves between considerations of Catherine's life and character and the political and military changes that were reshaping Europe during the last quarter of the 18th century. He is never stodgy but always dignified, carefully illuminating the facts so that readers can discover for themselves just what a badass Catherine really was. Roger Sutton has spent the last 15 years as editor-in-chief of The Horn Book. Follow him on Twitter @RogerReads. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* The popularity of Massie's biographies of Russian czars presages a comparable reception for his presentation of Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, as Catherine the Great was originally named. She appeals to readers for several reasons. Those interested in the expansion and development of the Russian Empire under her reign (1762-96) can delve into her conduct of war and diplomacy, cultivation of Enlightenment notables, and attempted reforms of law and government. And those fascinated by the intimate intrigues of dynasties will find an extraordinary example in Catherine's ascent from minor German princess to absolute autocrat of Russia. Court life is Massie's strong suit, though, which he develops with a well-referenced thoroughness that begins with Catherine's own account (The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, Mark Cruse, ed., 2005) of surviving palace politics as consort to the eccentric and disliked crown prince, Paul. The memoir, which suspends in 1758, alludes to another aspect of Catherine that tantalizes royalty readers, her liaisons with courtiers, most famously, Grigory Potemkin. Massie's treatment of them proves sympathetically perceptive to Catherine's warmth and her estrangement from them, humanizing the real woman behind the imperial persona. Written dramatically and almost visually, Massie's Catherine may attain the classic status that his Peter the Great (1980) and Nicholas and Alexandra (1967) already have.--Taylor, Gilbert Copyright 2010 Booklist