She was born into minor Prussian nobility in 1729 and named Sophia Augusta Fredericka, but she would die 67 years later as Catherine The Great (Random House, $35), an empress of tremendous intellect and passions. Robert Massie, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Peter the Great, has written a masterfully researched and compelling account of Catherine’s draconian childhood and disastrous arranged marriage, at age fourteen, to the mentally and physically impaired heir to the throne of a culturally backward Russia. The marriage was never consummated, but Catherine had three children by three different lovers. During her reign she became a politically powerful and culturally influential force, leading armies, negotiating treaties, and corresponding with Voltaire and Diderot in an attempt to bring the aesthetic ferment of the French Enlightenment to an unsophisticated population. She also recruited European doctors to bring modern medical practices to St. Petersburg and Moscow, where she founded those cities’ first medical schools and hospitals. Massie is so skilled at writing biography, and his subject is such a brilliant, multi-dimensional, and magnetic woman, that the combination makes for one of the best books of the season.
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman - Robert K. Massie
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Published: Random House - November 8th, 2011
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Published: Random House Trade Paperbacks - September 18th, 2012