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There is less drama to be found in a Telenovela than here in this biography of the extraordinary life of Catherine the Great. It showcases the many forms of human passion against the political backdrop of 18th century Russian government. This is the first book I’ve read by Pulitzer Prize winning author, Robert K. Massie, but I can tell you, I’ll be looking for more of his works.

Amid the larger historical context and significance of growing Russian European influence, is a more personal saga of life behind the palace walls. The absurdity of some of the episodes recounted in this book are made all the more absurd by the mere fact that they actually took place. Pride, ambition, despair, jealousy, paranoia, loneliness, conspiracies, love affairs, politics, and murder…this book has it all.  In short: History that reads like a novel.

From her humble roots as a lesser German princess, Sophia (as Catherine was born) was unloved by a mother who was crushingly disappointed in her own marriage and determined to make up for it by securing a fortuitous marriage for her daughter. Horrific stage-mom is a better description as she clearly hoped to seek fame and adventure on the coat-tails of her daughter’s success.

Betrothal to Peter, nephew of the Empress Elizabeth and next in line to the thrown, elevated Catherine to Grand Dutchess of the Russian Empire. However, for Catherine, life under Elizabeth brought a dizzying relationship with her benefactress vacillating regularly from “loved like a daughter” to being despised, suspect, and object of jealousy. Her husband offered no comfort from these indignities as her marriage to the sadistic Peter III was one of loneliness and humiliation. But endurance has it’s rewards for she would eventually become Empress in her own right…

Catherine’s life became no less fascinating once she reached the thrown but you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Two thumbs up for Catherine The Great: Portrait of a Woman

A special thanks to my mom for recommending it!