Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Written by Robert K. Massie
Review by Susan Higginbotham

In 1744, Sophia, a 14-year-old German princess, arrived in Moscow as a bride-to-be. In this biography, Massie tells us how Sophia became the woman we know as Catherine the Great. This is a meticulously detailed work about Catherine and her world, yet Massie never left me with the feeling of being overwhelmed (or worse, bored). Even though I knew almost nothing about Catherine or this period of Russian history, I never felt adrift. As a general reader, I particularly appreciated the short chapters and the section breaks within chapters, allowing me to leave the book when work intruded without having to reorient myself when I returned to it. Staying firmly within the confines of biography, Massie nevertheless makes Catherine’s story as gripping as that of any novel. His book does full justice to a complex and fascinating woman and to the age in which she lived.