While I enjoyed learning more about Catherine the Great, I did not enjoy this particular book very much. The author was clearly totally in the bag for Catherine which, while understandable (Elizabeth I is my homegirl, yo), does not make for the most well balanced of books. I mean, he seemed to take as gospel everything Catherine had to say about her husband, but it was in Catherine’s best interest that Peter III be seen as an idiot, no? I’m not saying he wasn’t, because at the very least he clearly understood nothing about the national character of Russians, but he also, you know, passed a law allowing freedom of religion in Russia, mandated education, freed nobles from mandatory state service, etc. None of which seems so bad, so why am I supposed to buy into Catherine’s idea that he was utterly hopeless?
The author was also very focused on the men in Catherine’s life instead of her actions/policies, which was not my favorite. She was a fascinating woman, not solely because of her love life/the men around her. I wanted to know more about the expansion of Russian during Catherine’s reign, her deep love of culture and art and what the meant for Russia, about her thoughts on the continued reliance of her country’s economy of serfdom. All fascinating subjects and all either ignored or seen through the lens of what romantic relationship was in at the time and how that might have influenced her actions and emotional state. A subject that was not NOT interesting but which at some point makes you go, “OMG SHE HAD TO HAVE THOUGHT ABOUT SOMETHING OTHER THAN WHO SHE WAS SLEEPING WITH AT SOME POINT, SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT DAMMIT.” You know?
I also was not a fan of the structure of the book/the tangents the book went on. For instance, so much time was spent talking about the French Revolution. SO MUCH. Dude. You did not need to spend fifty pages going into detail about the French Revolution and whether or not the guillotine actually caused instant death to explain why Catherine was upset by a fellow monarch being beheaded, okay?
So all in all, yay knowledge, boo this particular book. Well, except for one fact I could have lived happily my whole life without knowing. Apparently for a man to sleep with his niece was no big deal during this time period. Catherine’s uncle asked for her hand before she went to Russia, Voltaire had a long term affair with his niece, and Potemkin had affairs with three of his. Wtf, 18th century, wtf.