Would the world be a better place if more women were heads of State? Between the sexes, "competence" scores a draw. Yet women seem to carry more compassion, empathy and "workforce finesse" than power-hungry men. Not convinced? Well, if there ever was a proof point to this view, it came in the name of Catherine the Great of Russia. She rose from obscurity in Anhalt-Zerbst (Germany) to marry the grandson of Peter The Great, thanks to an arranged hook-up by Empress Elizabeth. Peter III was ill fit for anything -- except playing with toy soldiers. Consequently, Catherine spent her first nine years in marriage a virgin. I know, why wait? To heir is human, but they were not coming. So, she took matters into her own bed and began relations with the first of 12 "favorites". Face it, she knew how to ruffle the sheets.
Peter flitted about in idiocy, eventually dying and laying the ground for Catherine to rule the largest empire at the time on earth. Up to the task? For her 34 years on the throne, few could keep up with her. She was incredibly bright, well read, shrewd, courageous, open minded, enlightened about personal liberty with a distaste for human suffering. In short, she ruled with an iron hand and a head full of grand plans. Where she was rather spectacular about making love, she also excelled in making war. She hob-nobbed with the likes of Voltaire and Diderot, took time to rewrite basic laws (Nakaz) for Russia, formed the first college of medicine, turned a back-water St. Petersburg on the Baltic into worldly magnificence -- thanks to her collection of over 4,000 paintings amassed in her spare time.
Russia. So monumental. So dark and mysterious -- particularly during the time of our American Revolution. This book throws the doors open to a fascinating place and period in world history. In 1980, Robert Massie published Peter the Great. More than 30 years later, he follows with Catherine. If you have an itch to explore Russian history -- the Orlovs, the Romanovs, an odd fellow named Potemkin and others -- and gain a better understanding of how this massive nation became what it is today, this book is for you. We Americans tend to be influenced more by Western European lore. There is so much more. Russia possesses a heritage rich in multidimensional textures and flavors that beg to be sensed. And Massie brings everything to light in delicious prose. Cold winter nights ahead will have a glow when this book is in your lap.