Catherine the Great: Life and Legend

John T. Alexander, Author Oxford University Press, USA $74 (456p) ISBN 978-0-19-505236-7
Was Catherine the Great, the German princess who became Empress of All the Russias, a murderer and tyrant, or an enlightened shepherd of Russia's expanded role in Europe? Historian Alexander avoids an either/or approach in this workmanlike, evenhanded yet ultimately frustrating biography. Born Sophia Fredericks, Catherine saw herself as a female Peter the Great without his miitarism, yet she subjugated Poland, plunged Russia into war with Turkey and crushed the Pugachev uprising of 1773. During her reign she also abolished state monopolies, codified chaotic laws and encouraged industry in the provinces. Alexander, professor of history at the University of Kansas, paints a sympathetic portrait of a strong-willed woman who had to cope with loneliness, isolation and conspiratorial plots. Arguing that her alleged nymphomania is largely a myth (she had 12 documented lovers over 44 years), he explains her succession of male ``favorites'' in terms of a need to compartmentalize her life; he also speculates that she may have been secretly married to her adviser Grigorii Potemkin. Illustrations. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1988
Release date: 11/01/1988
Ebook - 457 pages - 978-0-19-987430-9
Paperback - 418 pages - 978-0-19-506162-8
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