This is a very detailed look at a fascinating woman who changed Russian history. Catherine (born Sophia) was a lesser known and unrich princess of a German duchy when she was called up as a potential suitor for Peter III. Catherine did not love Peter who, although older, remained childish. However, she was able to gain his confidence and the wedding was scheduled. Before it could take place, Peter caught smallpox. He lived, but when Catherine saw how disfigured he was she could not contain her disgust. Peter never forgave her.
Massie uses Catherine's diaires which go very extensively into her personal life in the court of Empress Elizabeth. In these diaries, Catherine notes that she and Peter III never consummated their marriage for nine years and it was likely that Peter fathered none of her children. Because of Peter's state of mind, most of the attendants could easily come to the same conclusion. It is Catherine's autobiography and diaries which gives us all of the information that we have today. Catherine noted in her autobiography that in her life she had had 12 lovers. This is where rumors of her sexuality came from.
Once Catherine takes the throne from her husband she embarks on many visits throughout Russia and starts to institute changes including those to alleviate some of the harshness of the life of the serfs. She was well-educated and built The Hermitage to showcase the art that was in the collection of the Romanovs. She continued to have favorites in court and their intrigues and lives are greatly detailed.
This biography is for serious readers of history. There is wonderful detail in the lives of Catherine and her family and everyone in the court. I can't remember reading as extensive a biography of a ruler ever. Catherine the Great, indeed.