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Catherine the Great

Cover of Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great

Portrait of a Woman

"[A] tale of power, perseverance and passion . . . a great story in the hands of a master storyteller."--The Wall Street Journal

The Pulitzer Prize--winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies--all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

"[A] compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman."--Newsweek

"An absorbing, satisfying biography."--Los Angeles Times

"Juicy and suspenseful."--The New York Times Book Review

"A great life, indeed, and irresistibly told."--Salon

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times

  • The Washington Post
  • USA Today
  • The Boston Globe
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Salon
  • Vogue
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • The Providence Journal
  • Washington Examiner
  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel
  • BookPage
  • Bookreporter
  • Publishers Weekly

    BONUS: This edition contains a Catherine the Great reader's guide.
  • "[A] tale of power, perseverance and passion . . . a great story in the hands of a master storyteller."--The Wall Street Journal

    The Pulitzer Prize--winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine's family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies--all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.

    "[A] compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman."--Newsweek

    "An absorbing, satisfying biography."--Los Angeles Times

    "Juicy and suspenseful."--The New York Times Book Review

    "A great life, indeed, and irresistibly told."--Salon

    NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
    The New York Times

  • The Washington Post
  • USA Today
  • The Boston Globe
  • San Francisco Chronicle
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Newsweek/The Daily Beast • Salon
  • Vogue
  • St. Louis Post-Dispatch
  • The Providence Journal
  • Washington Examiner
  • South Florida Sun-Sentinel
  • BookPage
  • Bookreporter
  • Publishers Weekly

    BONUS: This edition contains a Catherine the Great reader's guide.
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    Excerpts-
    • Chapter One

      Sophia's Childhood

      Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst was hardly distinguishable in the swarm of obscure, penurious noblemen who

      cluttered the landscape and society of politically fragmented eighteenth-century Germany. Possessed neither of exceptional virtues nor alarming vices, Prince Christian exhibited the solid virtues of his Junker lineage: a stern sense of order, discipline, integrity, thrift, and piety, along with an unshakable lack of interest in gossip, intrigue, literature, and the wider world in general. Born in 1690, he had made a career as a professional soldier in the army of King Frederick William of Prussia. His military service in campaigns against Sweden, France, and Austria was meticulously conscientious, but his exploits on the battlefield were unremarkable, and nothing occurred either to accelerate or retard his career. When peace came, the king, who was once heard to refer to his loyal officer as "that idiot, Zerbst," gave him command of an infantry regiment garrisoning the port of Stettin, recently acquired from Sweden, on the Baltic coast of Pomerania. There, in 1727, Prince Christian, still a bachelor at thirty-seven, bowed to the pleas of his family and set himself to produce an heir. Wearing his best blue uniform and his shining ceremonial sword, he married fifteen-year-old Princess Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, whom he scarcely knew. His family, which had arranged the match with hers, was giddy with delight; not only did the line of Anhalt-Zerbst seem assured, but Johanna's family stood a rung above them on the ladder of rank.

      It was a poor match. There were the problems of difference in age; pairing an adolescent girl with a man in middle age usually stems from a confusion of motives and expectations. When Johanna, of a good family with little money, reached adolescence and her parents, without consulting her, arranged a match to a respectable man almost three times her age, Johanna could only consent. Even more unpromising, the characters and temperaments of the two were almost entirely opposite. Christian Augustus was simple, honest, ponderous, reclusive, and thrifty; Johanna Elizabeth was complicated, vivacious, pleasure-loving, and extravagant. She was considered beautiful, and with arched eyebrows, fair, curly hair, charm, and an exuberant eagerness to please, she attracted people easily. In company, she felt a need to captivate, but as she grew older, she tried too hard. In time, other flaws appeared. Too much gay talk revealed her as shallow; when she was thwarted, her charm soured to irritability and her quick temper suddenly exploded. Underlying this behavior, and Johanna had known this from the beginning, was the fact that her marriage had been a terrible-and was now an inescapable-mistake.

      Confirmation first came when she saw the house in Stettin to which her new husband brought her. Johanna had spent her youth in unusually elegant surroundings. Because she was one of twelve children in a family that formed a minor branch of the ducal Holsteins, her father, the Lutheran bishop of Lübeck, had passed her along for upbringing to her godmother, the childless Duchess of Brunswick. Here, in the most sumptuously magnificent court in north Germany, she had become accustomed to a life of beautiful clothes, sophisticated company, balls, operas, concerts, fireworks, hunting parties, and constant, tittering gossip.

      Her new husband, Christian Augustus, a career officer existing on his meager army pay, could provide none of this. The best he could manage was a modest gray stone house on a cobbled street constantly swept by wind and rain. The walled fortress town of Stettin, overlooking a...

    About the Author-
    • Robert K. Massie was born in Lexington, Kentucky, and studied American history at Yale and European history at Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes Scholar. He was president of the Authors Guild from 1987 to 1991. His previous books include Nicholas and Alexandra, Peter the Great: His Life and World (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize for biography), The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, and Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea.

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      Random House Publishing Group
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