In This Review

Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power
Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power
By Virginia Rounding
St. Martin's Press, 2007, 592 pp

Scarcely more has been written about any Russian ruler, unless it be Peter, than Catherine, but rarely is it done in a way that captures so well her personality and life-shaping experiences. This is not a study of Russia looking in the window at Catherine; it is being in the room with her and looking out to catch glimpses of Russia. Her stifled youth (having been brought to Russia for marriage at age 15), her precocious ambitions as the teenage bride of the tsar-to-be, her early dalliances, the plotting that brought her to power, the intimate male alliances she struck throughout a 34-year reign, the differentiated affections for son and grandsons, and, above all, her private thoughts about people, power, and her purpose -- all are carefully reconstructed from remarkably revealing memoirs and the dispatches of discerning foreign ambassadors. The book is so readable because it brings Catherine alive, and not least in her relations with the men she drew to her side -- relations far more historically significant than the tawdry subtitle of the book implies.