Author: Robert K. Massie
Genre: Biography, Russian History
For: Fans of history, influential women in history, Russia
Star Verdict (out of 5): ****
I’ve always been fascinated by Russian history, so I enjoyed this book. Catherine II is probably the only woman ruler whose reign can compare to Elizabeth I of England, but she is not as well known. She ruled the massive empire of Russia in the mid 1700s, around the time when America won its independence from Britain.
Her life was a whirlwind; from her birth as a poor German princess of a lesser house, to the wife of a physiologically disturbed emperor-to-be before she took the throne from him in a coup and ruled with impressive success until her death. She was a patron of the arts (accumulating much of the massive collection in the Hermitage today), a shrewd politician, oversaw the formation of Russia’s navy in what was formerly a land-locked country, was interested in Enlightenment ideals, established schools and orphanages, and was concerned with the injustices against the surfs a century before the slaves were freed in Britain or America (although she was not able to accomplish much on this front). The book does discuss the many lovers she had throughout her reign, but is never graphic or lurid.
This is a long book (650 pages) but it kept my attention; it might be a bit much for readers who are not as interested in Russia, but if you’re at all interested in Russia or powerful women in history I’d give it a try!