The Life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia: Book Review

The Life of Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia By Carolly Erickson The Life of Catherine the Great is a 400-page book written by Carolly Erickson that details the interesting life of Catherine. The book was published in 1994 and printed by St. Martin’s Press in New York. Readers are able to purchase/check-out this book in a hardback copy with the ISBN of 0312135033 and also a paperback copy with an ISBN of 978-0312135034. The book features a full-length photo of Catherine in her royal attire on the front cover of the book.

Erickson begins the novel about Catherine, born Sophie, when she was a young four-year old girl. From the beginning of the book, she gives an account of Catherine the Great’s life chronologically. Erickson used primary sources to collect information on Catherine and even used several autobiographies that were written in French by Catherine herself from different periods in her life. From these memoirs, Erickson was able to interpret that Catherine was a full-bodied, educated, lovable, woman who was born to a German family and occupied prestigious titles early on into later stages of her life.

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Carolly Erickson performed rigorous research and provided some of the most intimate details about Catherine from Russia. Erickson spent much time interviewing different informants (diplomats, guards, foreign visitors) and quoting material from journalists and others’ journals. With this particular book, a reader will definitely get a well-written biography of this infamous historical figure and learn a great deal about the times of Russia as well as unknown information about Catherine.

This book was intended for readers that wanted to get a better grasp of Catherine the Great, but also can be an appealing piece of work that is out of the ordinary for readers not quite familiar with Catherine. Erickson made sure to capture her audience’s attention with the intriguing facts of Catherine’s being and managed to bring Catherine’s character to life. Catherine the Great of Russia was rumored to have been a crazy nymphomaniac believed to have had a hand in her husband’s murder. Erickson made an effort to dissolve her tarnished image and uncover who Catherine really was.

She was very empathetic regarding Catherine’s reputation. Erickson discussed how Catherine dressed and her attitude. She explained how she married a duke at the tender age of 14 and how their marriage was troublesome. She also mentions how charming and intelligent Catherine was and provides insight on how she made helpful changes to Russia; but very little was written about how she ruled as Empress. Erickson demonstrated Catherine’s strength and willpower to rule without the presence of a man.

Readers are definitely provided a vivid description of what is occurring so much that they will more than likely feel they were present during these times. Erickson reveals Catherine’s insecurities, downfalls, yearn for love and inevitable sorrows but also commends Catherine’s accomplishments that gained her fame and allowed her to become one of Russia’s renowned leaders. Overall, I enjoyed reading the book and discovered pieces of information that usually would not be mentioned in a traditional history class. I felt that the book was interesting in the very beginning and the middle until I reached the end.

I was bored beyond tears and could not believe this was the same book that I started out reading. Aside from my anticipation that the ending would be just as exciting as the beginning, I learned that the book wasn’t as interesting because Catherine no longer wrote memoirs or autobiographies once she became an empress; which was closer toward the end of the book. The author, Erickson, obviously began reaching once she ran out of Catherine’s material. Because the focus of this book was personal, I feel that it would be useless if it was used as an educational tool.

I feel that it should be recommended primarily for personal enjoyment. Therefore, I wouldn’t suggest this book to a Russian scholar, to someone who was interested in the politics of Russia, or to someone that wanted heavy details on other aspects of Catherine’s rule. Erickson is a great writer and an expert on writing biographies. I felt that she constructed The Life of Catherine the Great well, but I feel that she should be more conscious of making sure to keep her audience’s attention all the way to the end.

It was a letdown and I struggled to finish the book because my interest diminished greatly towards the end. I also feel that, in the future, she should focus on all aspects of a person’s life rather than just the personal details in order to receive a well-rounded assessment. Instinctively, I admired Carolly Erickson for her dedication in finding first hand information on Catherine the Great (which wasn’t much) and putting together a well-written account of her life.



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