Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K Massie - review by Donald Rayfield

Donald Rayfield

Making of an Empress

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman


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Catherine the Great reckoned that over her lifetime she had just twelve lovers. If that was the case, her lovers have been outnumbered by her biographers, who often resemble the former in their infatuation or calculating exploitation, their brilliance or their inept fumblings. Robert K Massie, acclaimed for his biographies of Tsar Nicolas II and his consort, and of Peter the Great, is certainly both enamoured and brilliant – the advocate that anyone accused of heinous crimes, as Catherine the Great has been, would want on the Day of Judgement. He also writes as well as any living novelist. 

However, Massie’s book has flaws. First and foremost, he does not read Russian: when he wrote his earlier biographies he was married to Suzanne, who taught President Reagan to say in Russian ‘Trust, but verify’, and who gave her husband the expertise that this book lacks. Admittedly most private and

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