New Release: Story of an Empress

I’ve been looking forward to the release of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman ever since I first saw it on The Book Page  blog (one of my favs). The New York Times reviewed it glowingly on the front cover of the Sunday Book Review a few weekends back, and since Robert K. Massie won a Pulitzer Prize for his book Peter the Great, I think all signs point to this being a great read.

Catherine the Great was Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796, and from what I’ve heard, she lived a very juicy and enthralling life. We learn so much about MEN in history during school, so I always find myself more drawn to historical fiction and non-fiction about great women in history when I’m picking books to read for myself.

I love biographies because in addition to learning about the unique life of the subject, you’re also learning about the setting (in this case, Russia) and all of the amazing things that were happening during the time period being examined. Not ashamed to admit I know absolutely zero about Russia from 1762 to 1796 (or…any years before and after those) so I think I’m going to learn a lot of interesting history from this biography. I picked up my copy a few days ago and I can’t wait to dig into it!

How could you NOT be intrigued by a story that takes place partly in this palace?
Even though apparently Catherine wasn’t a big fan, I think it’s pretty fabulous.

Another great biography about a famous female ruler of yore:
Cleopatra, by Stacy Schiff (ANOTHER Pulitzer winner!) is the story of a really ambitious, powerful woman living in a fascinating place and time. Not at all dry (as biographies can sometimes tend towards) this account is informative and even humorous. A strong selling point is that Schiff pulls no punches, openly discussing the fact that when it comes to Cleopatra, a lot of what we “know” is basically hearsay and myth recorded by her detractors. The historical record being pretty sketchy on her, Schiff takes an approach of “working with what ya got” to piece together a narrative that is honest, instead of the sensationalized pop culture version that most people are familiar with.

Sources: 1, 2, 3  

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  1. Dorothy wrote:

    Excellent reviews! Read the second, want to read the first. Interesting fact: Stacy Schiff won her Pulitzer for a biography of a great Russian novelist's wife and muse, Vera Nobokov. More Russian history! The reason I particularly want to read this book is because Schiff is 'regularly praised for both her meticulous scholarship and her witty style' according to Wikipedia. It's true.

    Published 12.3.11 · Reply
  2. Yes, she manages to mix the two very well-Wikipedia ain't lyin! 🙂

    Published 12.3.11 · Reply
  3. Hi – just found your blog! That book you're reading in the side bar looks really interesting! How is it?

    Published 12.3.11 · Reply