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Book review: “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” by Robert K. Massie
Like a bridge over the Neva River, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie spans his books on Peter the Great and Nicholas and Alexandria with “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” (Random House, $35). Thirty years have passed — almost as long as Empress Catherine ruled Russia — since Massie's last major biography of a Romanov leader (1981's “Peter the Great: His Life and World”).
Catherine was named Sophia when born into the lesser Prussian nobility in 1729. Her mother's connections to Peter's daughter (and successor) propelled Princess Sophia toward an arranged, loveless marriage with Peter's grandson.
Like Sophia, he was raised in what's now Germany. Unlike her, Peter III had little interest in Russia, its culture, language and religion. She embraced these things and, usually, won the favor of the mercurial Empress
When Elizabeth died, Peter III ascended to power. But after just six months of corrupt, disinterested rule, Catherine's supporters deposed him, installed her as empress and — literally — killed any chances that Peter could be restored to the throne.
Catherine had the support of nobles and commoners alike. She produced heirs, but they would have to wait to reign until her 34 years of taming the Russian bear were ended.