Catherine The Great: Portrait of A Woman


Robert K. Massie

If you want to read a biography of a strong, smart and politically savvy woman then Catherine The Great: Portrait of A Woman is for you. It’s a long book tallying 625 pages and 24 hours in audio version but it is worth the effort. I visited Russia and several of the palaces in which Catherine lived and am intrigued by her ability to reign for 34 years.

Catherine (real name Sophia) was summoned to Russia from Germany as a young woman to marry Peter the III who was less than an adequate husband and heir apparent. Among many other faults, Peter ridiculed Catherine in public and he lacked the respect of the court and countrymen because he disliked Russia and wanted to return to his beloved Germany. On the opposite of the spectrum, Catherine embraced her adoptive country from the beginning, converting her religion and learning the native language.

When Peter’s Aunt, the Empress Elizabeth died, Peter ascended the throne, but was quickly overthrown for the country’s beloved Catherine who studied great philosophers and was interested in reforming the monarchy and improving the lives of the lower class. Catherine learned very early on to be humble and make others feel at ease. The combination of intellectual curiosity along with humility served her well throughout the years

While Catherine was far from perfect and did not significantly improve human rights, you will be surprised at the many initiatives she undertook to transform Russia into a cultured more compassionate country. Catherine The Great: Portrait of A Woman is worth the time commitment if you enjoy reading about fascinating people.

One parting shot, Catherine invaded and assumed control of the Crimean Peninsula and the Ukraine so it seems that Putin is following some Catherine’s playbook.