Peter the Great
by Robert K. Massie
Release Date: 12 October, 1981
of hard to pronounce names & obscure 17th century geographical locations. Fredrick Davidson made it easy for for me in his fine narration on 32 cassettes.
This book is not just for scholars but it is a major biography on Peter the Great, indisputably the greatest ruler Russia has ever had (including her Soviet Union era). Robert Massey is to be commended & his research is excellent.
Czar Peter, literally dragged Russia kicking & screaming into the modern era. He did it, many times single handedly, by the sheer force of his personality. The greatest impact on his life were the two extended visits he made to western Europe. The first, early in his reign, was attempted incognitio. This was sometimes ridiculous as he was 6 ft. 7 inches tall & was easily spotted in any gathering. This visit fired his interest in the sea & his dreams of Russian seaports & a great Russian Navy. He actually became an Admiral, coming up thru the ranks.
The author digresses, with good result, into a series of mini-biograhies on Louis XIV, William of Orange & others.
Mr. Massey devotes several chapters to Charles XII of Sweden. He was Peter's adversary in the seemingly endless Northern wars. These wars dominated Peter's time & energy for over ten years at the start of the 1700's. These were the years of the beginnng of the end fot some of the empires of the middle ages. The Holy Roman Empire & the Ottoman Empire were in slow decline. Peter destroyed the Swedish Armies & Sweden never rose again to her previous prominence.
His discriptions of Paris in the 1717 & the impact Paris had on Peter were quite important for the changes that overcame St. Petersburg in the last years of Peter's reign. Peter borrowed heavily from European culture as well as technology. Few in Russia could keep up with his ambitions & aspirations for Russia.
Peter was a complex man with simple tastes. He was one of the few monarchs in history that was actually suited to the ruling of an empire. Most kings thru history of the world were inbred morons simply ruling because of birth. He was a cruel man but not unsually so for his time. He was big-hearted, demanded loyalty & rewarded it. He was as just as a despot could be & above all, honest. He was Russia & Russia was him. Russia was better for it.
This is a large work in every sense & gives us a good feel for Russia & Europe as they entered the 18th century.
I was ridiculed by my friends when I exited a bookstore with a copy of Peter the Great in my hands. Ridicule all they want but after reading this gargantuan book I was certain this was the best book I had ever read. Massie's description of Peter's life and of Russian society in the early 1700 bring to life ghosts long since gone. Massie brings history to life, the friendships, the deceits, love affairs, diplomacy etc. Massie's Peter the Great is much more than the biography of one man, it tells the story of a country's transformation from one of the most backward states of Europe to one of it's forerunners. It also explains in great length the going ons all over Europe in the time of Peter. Peter the Great, always interesting, always fun to read, reads more like a novel than a biography. That's one reason why I always recommend it to people regardless of wether the person likes or loathes history.