To earn a title like “The Great” requires serious accomplishment. Catherine II of Russia most definitely met that criteria. Robert K. Massie tells the story of this minor German princess who ruled wisely and expanded the Russian Empire alone. She relied on the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers and her impressive judgment.
Catherine lived a long, dramatic, action-packed life. She was surrounded by a wide array of characters of both small and magnificent intelligence. Before her dramatic accession to the throne, she was by turns spoiled, neglected, and mistreated, but she ruled steadfastly after that. She left Russia in better shape than she found it.
Robert K. Massie tells of Catherine’s life before becoming empress in a chronological narrative. After that, a topical format covers her contributions to Russian art and politics. Wars with Turkey and entanglements with the rest of Europe are detailed. He also examines her lovers and family. It is an astounding story by any standard. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history or in accounts of strong women.