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Robert Massie Dispels Myths with “Catherine the Great”

Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Robert K. Massie separates historical rumor from documented fact with his new book Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 656pgs). Massie has proven himself to be an enthusiast of all things Russian with his previous books, including the bestselling Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great, and according to a review in USA TODAY, his enthusiasm does not wane with this new subject. Catherine, born into minor German nobility and married off to her second cousin, the heir to the Russian throne, at 16, is affectionately portrayed as intelligent, driven and forthright. Upon her marriage, she begins a rigorous self-education, learning Russian, adopting her new homeland’s Orthodox faith and devouring books on all subjects. Her actions endear her to the Russian people, though the citizenry feel quite the opposite about Peter, her arrogant and cruel husband. Just months into Peter’s reign, the reviled czar is overthrown and 33 year-old Catherine is enthroned, though the book posits that it is unlikely she orchestrated the coup.

As the second half of her life unfolds, Catherine proves herself to be an adept ruler, embracing the Enlightenment movement, championing education and dealing with the roiling political landscape of the time. Over the centuries, her accomplishments have been eclipse by rumors of her voracious sexual appetite, and Massie admits struggling about whether or not to address the most outrageous stories in an interview with The New York Times. In the end, the biographer decided to stick with the facts instead of highlighting the rumors. By doing so, Massie has by all critical accounts, crafted a truly riveting biography.

“…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,” writes Deirdre Donahue for USA TODAY.

  1. John T. Alexander
    March 11th, 2012 at 12:21 | #1

    Massie’s book is godawful! Full 9f errrs and neptly written. He doesn’t even read Russian! Can you beleve it! Just glance at his sorry biblio! He’s lost it at 82, if he ever had it. One of the worst books ever foisted on an unsuspectng audience. The man is a fraud, and so is this book! Have youno shame, Massie??
    random House should hng its head in shame!
    who wrote this atrocity anyway?
    That’s a serious question!! The oddest thing is Maddie’s conviction that he’s saving i8nnocent readers from salacious stories about her sexualitiy, unaware that these have been all over the Internet (he never heard of it) for at least two decades! Nice try,
    time to hang it up!

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