Great Catherine The Life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Carolly Erickson

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

400 Pages



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From the moment the fourteen-year-old Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst agreed to marry the heir to the Russian throne, she was mired in a quicksand of intrigue. Precociously intelligent, self-confident, and attractive but with a stubborn, wayward streak, Sophia withstood a degree of emotional battering that would have broken a weaker spirit until at last she emerged, triumphant over her many enemies, as Empress Catherine II of Russia.

Her achievements as empress were prodigious. She brought vast new lands under Russian rule. She raised the prestige of Russia in Europe. She began the process of imposing legal and political order on the chaos she inherited from her predecessors. Yet few historical figures have been so enthusiastically vilified as Catherine the Great. Whispers that she had ordered her husband's murder grew to murmurs that she was an immoral woman and finally to shouts that she was a depraved, lust-crazed nymphomaniac. With deft mastery of historical narrative and an unsurpassed ability to make the past live again, Carolly Erickson uncovers the real woman behind the tarnished image—an indomitable, feisty, often visionary ruler who, in an age of caveats and constraints, blithely went her own way.

Great Catherine reveals the complexities of this great ruler's nature, her craving for love, her insecurities, the inevitable sorrows and disappointments of a strong empress who dared not share her power with any man yet longed to be led and guided by a loving consort. Great Catherine is a fresh portrait of an infamous historical figure, one that reveals how Catherine's flawed triumph guaranteed her posthumous fame and enhanced the might and renown of Russia for generations to come.


Praise for Great Catherine

"Erickson has painted a fascinating picture of an extraordinary woman . . . This sympathetic but balanced and detailed account is based in part on several autobiographies that the empress herself wrote. Recommended."—Library Journal

"While many biographers of this fascinating ruler have focused on Catherine's love life and the extravagances of the Russian court, Erickson has chosen to relate Catherine's story by emphasizing her ambition to govern wisely. The strong narrative moves along at a brisk pace without stinting on the vivid details that bring the court of 18th-century Imperial Russia into sharp focus. The author captures the intellectual and social milieu as well as the brilliant, often opulent lifestyle of Empress Catherine II. An accessible and engaging introduction to a great ruler and the country she sought to enlighten."—School Library Journal

"Erickson's fluid, captivating portrait of Catherine the Great reads like a first-rate historical novel."—Booklist

"Historian and biographer Erickson in this sympathetic, vibrant portrait, presents a shrewd, headstrong, cultivated woman, a political reformer and supporter of education and the arts, who codified laws, built schools and asserted her independence in a land where women had low status . . . Drawing on Catherine's memoirs and letters, Erickson has fashioned an engrossing, astonishingly vivid portrait."—Publishers Weekly

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Distinguished historian Carolly Erickson is the author of Rival to the Queen, The Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots, The First Elizabeth, The Hidden Life of Josephine, The Last Wife of Henry VIII, and many other prize-winning works of fiction and nonfiction. Her novel The Tsarina’s Daughter won the Romantic Times Reviewer's Choice Award for Best Historical Fiction. She lives in Hawaii.
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  • Carolly Erickson

  • Carolly Erickson received her Ph.D. in medieval history from Columbia University. She is also the author of The First Elizabeth, Great Harry, Alexandra, and Bloody Mary, among other books. She lives in Hawaii.
  • Carolly Erickson Photo: Brian Reed