PETER THE GREAT [Unabridged Recording: 42hrs, 12mins]
By Robert Massie
First published in 1981, this Pulitzer prize award-winning biography remains a classic study of a quite remarkable character in Russian history. Remembered as an enlightened reformer and a statesman of considerable significance, yet also as a barbarous feudal tsar with a highly volatile temperament, Peter the Great provides the biographer with very rich pickings.
Where Massie's volume triumphed over other predecessors, however, was in its extreme breadth of vision - as the Sunday Times remarked... 'by taking an enormous canvas and filling every inch of it with action and description... and in measuring him by the yardstick of that age (Massie) has shown... precisely why this 6ft 7in epileptic was hailed as Petrus Magnus Imperator'. This wonderfully chunky paperback - complete with maps and family tree - has all the components of a gripping novel, and is a must for all history buffs and biography fans, as well as all those who appreciate the rich diversity of Russian culture.
What a treat this book was to read. Robert Massie demonstrates an ability at biography to a level I had never before experienced, though a huge portion of my reading is in fact biography. Truly amazing is the level of detail and background, which is somehow seamlessly spun into fibers, into yarns, and into a rich textile of thoughts and events sweeping through Russian and world drama by the fluid hand of Mr. Massie. He is with no exaggeration a master of his craft. I suppose this is why the book has earned a Pulitzer prize.
Not only is the worth of the author a call for every historically curious person to swim eagerly through this work, but so do the very facts of the account examined create among the richest stories available in history for any author to weave into narrative. It just so happens that here we have a wonderful and rich history handled by an unusually able story teller.
Peter The Great is such a curious character that one might consider such a collection of ability, insight, temper, and crushingly wielded power more the subject of a novel before thinking him one who walked the Earth, leaving his mark forever impressed upon Russia until the modern day.
It was Peter who pulled Russia kicking and screaming from the dark ages. It was Peter who created the Russian Navy from nothing (actually it is said from a single rotten sailboat). It was Peter who created Russia's first standing professional army. How? From the ranks of children with whom he played army as a child himself. He grew, they grew, and they became the core of the new Russian army. This by the way is a brutal and captivating tread of the story in its own right.
The book is riddled with such accounts, rendered in a degree of detail as to leave you simply awestruck and immersed in your own transported imagination. This to the point of regretting the arrival of that last of its many polished and engrossing pages.
This is truly a wonderful display of scholarship, of factual organization, and of rich story telling. This book is absolutely perfect for those with a mind, seeking to have it engaged.
Against the monumental canvas of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe and Russia, unfolds the magnificent story of Peter the Great. He brought Russia from the darkness of its own Middle Ages into the Enlightenment and transformed it into the power that has its legacy in the Russia of our own century.