• Catherine the Great

  • Portrait of a Woman
  • By: Robert K. Massie
  • Narrated by: Mark Deakins
  • Length: 23 hrs and 52 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (2,435 ratings)

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Catherine the Great

By: Robert K. Massie
Narrated by: Mark Deakins
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Publisher's Summary

The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

©2011 Robert K. Massie (P)2011 Random House

Featured Article: The Best Biography Audiobooks to Educate, Fascinate, and Inspire


The best biographies are ranked not only by the scale and skill of their writing, but also by the strength of their subjects. In the audiobook world, these selections are also judged for the quality of their narrative performances, making those that rise to the top all the more excellent. From lighthearted entertainment to inspirational origin stories, these titles represent the best biography audiobooks now ready for your listening pleasure.

What listeners say about Catherine the Great

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Loved everyone minute!

Robert Massie did an excellent job telling this incredible story of Catherine the Great. The narration was equally excellent. I should make a note that I was a little concerned about buying this book in audible form. I find that stories about royal families and their subjects can get a bit confusing when it comes to lineage, who did what…etc so I typically buy hardcopy books so I can refresh my memory by looking at previous chapters. I clearly didn't need to worry about that with this audible version. The story was well organized and the author takes the time to refresh the readers’ memory from time to time. I was disappointed to reach the end. Now I am going to purchase Peter the Great from the same author. I can't wait!

60 people found this helpful

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She's Great, He's Not

If you could sum up Catherine the Great in three words, what would they be?

Absorbing, fascinating and unlikely

Who was your favorite character and why?

In any telling of the life of Catherine the Great, Catherine must be the central character. Nobody but Catherine herself could have invented her.

What do you think the narrator could have done better?

It is clear that the narrator is simply reading words (which he does quite well) but has no deeper connection to the subject. Constant and consistent mispronunciation of Russian German and French words and names (and not just the difficult ones) are distracting and make one think he did no preparation. This may seem like a trivial point, but a good reading is one where one feels like the narrator knows what he/she is talking about and that is not the case here.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

There are genuinely amusing, genuinely moving and genuinely horrifying moments.

Any additional comments?

This is a well paced and lively telling of a great story. It does not dig very deep into the history of the period, the mind of the protagonist or the culture of the period. But presents the information that it does provide in a manner that is clear and understandable for anyone with no background on the subject and that is no small accomplishment

52 people found this helpful

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What a lady!

It's hard to believe this woman accomplished so much in her life without Internet, computers, or modern transportation. This is an excellent book, and I loved the fact that so much of it was obtained from Catherine's own writings. Excellent book!

24 people found this helpful

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Enjoyed

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I have recommednded to this book to many freinds.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Catherine the Great?

The 1762 coup, when Catherine and the Orlov brothers overthrew Catherine's husband Peter.

Have you listened to any of Mark Deakins’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not listened to any other books read by Mark Deakins, but I will watch out for him in the future.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

I was moved by the love affair of Catherine and Grigory Potempkin.

Any additional comments?

The book was fast paced and interesting.

15 people found this helpful

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Great Living History

I had an opportunity to visit St. Petersburg, Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, and the Hermitage this summer. During the trip we heard much about Catherine the Great, including this book recommendation. It did not disappoint. Massie does an excellent job of making 18th Century European history come alive. It is an improbable story: a princess from a small German principality and minor noble family emerges as the Czarina of Russia after the abdication and death of her husband, Peter III. Not only Czarina, but a most hard-working, capable, patriotic, and winsome head of Russia, known for her enlightened views and very able administrative and leadership qualities. For that reason she became known after her death as Catherine "the Great."

The book sets forth Catherine’s story in very personal terms, depicting her ambitions, hopes, loves, sufferings, frustrations, fears, and triumphs. As a story it makes the history and events of the time much more memorable and real, particularly as compared to the chronologies in which history is more typically presented. I found the book very enriching and greatly expanded my understanding of the era and the history of Russia.

13 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Great story terrible narrator.

What did you like best about Catherine the Great? What did you like least?

This is an amazing story but I couldn't bring myself to finish it. The narrator had a very heavy American accent, who failed to bring me into the world of this Russan Queen. Deakins reading was boring, and inappropriate for this wonderful tale. Totally spoilt my experience.

Who would you have cast as narrator instead of Mark Deakins?

A female voice as it's about a female Queen. Joanne Lumley would have been perfect.

Was Catherine the Great worth the listening time?

No.

11 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Between tabloid and history

What did you like best about Catherine the Great? What did you like least?

This book is not meant for history lovers. There are snippets of great historical events but most of it is just court drama and gossips from Catherine time. It's not a terrible book but it could have been so much more.

What about Mark Deakins’s performance did you like?

Solid performance by the narrator.

11 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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The best biography of Catherine The Great👍👍

Overall this is a fabulously written complete in-depth biography of the life and times of Catherine The Great, It will leave you with a solid understanding of her place within the annals of history. The narrator, Mark Deakins, is very good. He made it sound as if someone was reading you a story, This is NOT an ongoing droning & dry delivering of facts as some do when reading and/or writing a historic biography, on the contrary, I found it to be a very enjoyable listen!

I highly recommend this audio book, it is a pleasurable learning experience.

I've listened to this biography for the second time within two years or so and found it as good, if not better, than the first time I heard it.

Now on to this author, Robert K. Massie's Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Peter The Great. (Unlike this bio, the narrator of Peter The Great is going to take sometime getting used to, well I hold out hope to anyway. 😉)

Enjoy! 😁

9 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A Great Listen

Any person that is frightened of history books should listen to this. You will be fascinated by this woman and the story is easy to listen to. Not like a Dostoyevsky novel at all so don't worry about being confused by the number and sound of names.

8 people found this helpful

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Loved this Listen!!!

What did you love best about Catherine the Great?

The story overall. Some parts are repeated to keep you familiar with the timeline associated with the big events in Catherine's life.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Catherine herself

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes but not possible, very very long!!!

6 people found this helpful

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Mette
  • 12-23-12

Great book about a great woman

I'm a history geek - and proud of it. I like biographies - and this one is among the best I've ever heard. Narration is great, and the book so well written it's hard to put my earplugs away. When I give it four stars instead of five it's due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of Russian names - pretty damn hard to keep track at times - especially in the part that describes Catherines coup. Other than that a great read - or ...hear ;D

7 people found this helpful

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  • Jim
  • 05-29-13

What a woman!

Her diaries do bring the first half to life but I didn't really feel like it lagged in the second half as other reviewers have suggested. It's a great story; she's likeable and impressive enough that you root for her throughout; the cast of characters is astonishingly compelling and once her own version of events peters out as a source for the author he draws on plenty of other sources to document a landscape of egomanical European princelings; hyperventilating Russian nobles; a sort of revolving door of lovers; a pantomime villain mother and a husband straight out of Blackadder.

5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • James
  • 07-20-12

A mostly really interesting read

I did not know much about Catherine beyond her penchant for art and french culture. However this book is a really interesting look into her life and development as one of the most powerful monarchs in history. I found the book to be a little uneven and this is the reason I didn't give it five stars. The first half is superb given to the fact that she kept a wonderful diary for the first half of her life which allows Massie to delve deeply into her motivations and personal experience. The second half, when she abruptly stopped recording her personal thoughts, makes the later half of her life more of a typical history. Still, it's a wonderful book. Additionally, the narrator is quite good and makes this long book quite enjoyable to listen to.

4 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-24-16

Sometimes reads like a glossy magazine

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I might recommend the book, but in paper form. The narrator reads well but insists on using a very annoying, breathy female voice for Catherine and other female characters and uses these voices a lot. The title is "A Portrait of a Woman" and does dwell a lot on her life as a woman, her lovers in particular, which at times makes it read like an article from 'Hello'. The 'history' chapters were well written and narrated. I just wish there had been more of them.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Catherine the Great?

Her seizure of power as the Empress.

Would you be willing to try another one of Mark Deakins’s performances?

Possibly not. Only if assured there were no female impersonations, because otherwise he reads very well. Some the foreign accents were a bit hammy as well.

Did Catherine the Great inspire you to do anything?

Find out more about Peter the Great and The Russian Revolution.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • rosie arnold
  • 12-03-13

Girlpower

Would you listen to Catherine the Great again? Why?

Engrossing biography of an extraordinary female icon. Maligned for centuries but brave foreward thinking woman.
Who knew she tried out the smallpox vaccination before it was widely used?

What other book might you compare Catherine the Great to, and why?

A Scandalous Life- biography of Lady Jane Digby. Another feisty woman.

What does Mark Deakins bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

It is quite a dense book so it was more digestable perhaps than reading it.

Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Empowering.

Any additional comments?

Fills one with wonder that she achieved so much yet history has marked her down as a sex mad slut. Good to see her in the proper light.

2 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Circe'sAttic
  • 01-25-15

A game of two halves

I found the second half of the book, after Catherine's personal diaries cease, less engaging than the first when her voice makes the story more alive. I also felt the second half needed editing, the author goes off an tangents as if to make up for this dryness, for example about the history, effectiveness and ethics of the guillotine, which though interesting has very little to do with Catherine and, in these days of Wikipedia can be easily accessed by anyone who cares to know more on the subject.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-08-22

Very helpful

The book is narrated beautifully and the story helps one understand some parts of today’s happening, but also reveals some of Russia’s inherited cultural wonders. Very nice!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • A. J. Taylor
  • 10-19-22

A Great Woman. A Great Monarch.

Catherine II of Russia is one of the greats in history, a smart impressive woman who overcame a dominant mother, controlling mother in law and imbecile for a husband. Robert K. Massie tells the ultimate story of an outsider who came to dominate the period she lived in and has become one of the most important people in Russia’s history.

The book was well written, coherent and face paced. It followed Catherine rather than deviating to others too much, such as Peter III her husband or her lovers Grigory Orlov or Prince Potemkin two of her most famous lovers. So much happens in her story, it is truest fascinating and surely will be which has inspired many stories over the years.

Peter the Great made Russia a great power and she expanded it. In placing her well meaning, ex-lover Stanislaw August Poniatowski on the throne of Poland she kept it weak and then eventually partitioned it, giving Russia 96,000 square kilometre of new territory. She also took hold of the coast of the Black Sea, seizing Crimea and establishing the important towns of Odessa (where controversially her statue still stands today) and Sevastopol. She believed in enlightened autocracy and truly built a great system.

Her main failure was her son, Paul who was taken away from at birth to be raised by the Empress Elizabeth, a jealous but able woman. He would reject her Russian outlook much as Peter III rejected Elizabeth’s and would sow the seeds for Russia’s downfall in 1917. She also weirdly repeated the mistake of Elizabeth by having soul influence over the heir, this time Alexander, which again caused division between her and Paul.

As I have said above, the story is told on a great way by a literary master. Really enjoyed it and even managed to learn more than I already knew. Can’t recommend enough!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rob
  • 10-13-22

Excellent autobiography

This is a well read & engrossing story of Catherine the Great. She was an extraordinary woman.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephen Bentley
  • 02-11-22

An Enthralling Story

A quite extraordinary woman. Exactly who the Romanov Tsars were descended from is a mystery that can never now be solved and as the Empress Elizabeth allegedly implied really didn't matter in the long term. This is an enthralling story that is well told.

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Cath
  • 02-13-21

Definitely an interesting read

Not a typical pick for me to read and whilst lengthy & at times required complete concentration to follow, I actually thoroughly enjoyed this book.
The content was clearly well researched and I learnt more than I expected not only about Russian history but also about Catherine’s personality which was evident throughout the entire book.

1 person found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-28-22

Too much detail

Struggled to finish. Too much detail. Need more focus on only big events of her life. I don't need to know this room has got a peep hole that becomes an entertainment piece for the grand duke. The part on her impact on policy such as the Nakas and abolition of feudalism was good.

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  • Erica Coombes
  • 01-23-22

what a shame

What a shame it was narrated by a man, a man who puts on a woman voice, what a shame.