Robert Massie delivers a very thorough examination of the life and times of Catherine the Great from her childhood until her dying days. As a young German girl, Catherine's mother was obsessed with arranging a "big" marriage for her daughter and went to tremendous lengths to accomplish it. Much of her motivation came from her own desire to be important, but Catherine was just as ambitious and determined to make an impact. I think the whole process of those royal marriage arrangements was very messed up, which comes across loud and clear in this one. The Grand Duke Peter, chosen heir to the Russian throne, was a distant nephew of Elizabeth, didn't care at all for his aunt, hated Russia, and had no desire to marry Catherine! For her part, from the beginning Catherine was committed to becoming a great Russian empress. She changed religion, learned the language and the culture and ingratiated herself with the Russian people. Needless to say, Catherine and Peter did not have a happy union and both found lovers outside the marriage.
Catherine loved to learn, loved to read and loved art. In fact she amassed some of the most impressive libraries and art collections in the world. Catherine lived a very opulent lifestyle in addition to providing generous living allowances and positions of rank for her numerous lovers and several favored servants. Despite her personal extravagances, Catherine took her position as Empress very seriously, always trying to find ways to elevate the common man and modernize Russia.
To be expected in a novel this lengthy, there are sections that run overly long full of seemingly unnecessary detail, but as a whole this is an interesting overview of one of Russia's most loved rulers. If you like history, lives of royalty, etc., you'll enjoy this read.