My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I bought Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie at the same time I bought his biography of Catherine the Great, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Catherine the Great and expected no less from Peter the Great given my previous experiences with books by Massie. I wasn’t disappointed; in fact, I enjoyed reading Peter the Great more than I did reading Catherine the Great.
Part of my enjoyment stemmed from Massie’s magnificent writing; he really does breathe life into the personalities in his books, not just the primary personalities but others as well. He doesn’t just tell you what they did, he tells you what made them tick and why they made the decisions and why they acted in certain ways.
The other reason I enjoyed the book so much is that Peter is such a fascinating historical figure. I knew of Peter and knew that he worked to modernize Russia, but I didn’t know his personality and I didn’t have a good understanding of what he did to modernize Russia. Peter was a complex personality; he reinforces my belief that all historical figures are flawed in some way but that in some, their positive characteristics outshine their negative characteristics. Peter had a violent temper and was capable of great brutality (perhaps not surprising given what he experienced in his childhood), but he also was aware of his temper and could be capable of mercy. He lacked a good education but knew and regretted that he did and lived with curiosity, pursuing knowledge throughout his lifetime. He put a great strain on the people of his country through taxation and forced change on them, but at the same time, he dragged Russia kicking and screaming out of its feudal age.
Peter the Great is easily one of the best books I’ve read recently and just as Massie’s biography of Catherine the Great did, expanded my knowledge of Russian and Eastern European History. It’s a long book, almost 1000 pages, but I often found it hard to put down because it was such compelling reading. Once again, Massie has proven that history books don’t have to be dull and boring, Peter the Great: His Life and World is a brilliant and interesting five-star book.