There were two reasons that I read this book, One, I had read Massie's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Nicholas and Alexandra previously and I wanted to read this book after reading that book to gain some historical perspective on how previous Russian tzars had influenced the decisions that Nicholas made for his country. Secondly, my relatives on my mother's side (they were German), joined Catherine in Russia, eventually settling on the Volga River and I wanted to learn more about what their life would have been like under this important ruler. Massie, ever the consummate historian, brings to life a story of a brilliant woman that few in the 21st century know about. This book is long but it is extremely well written and well researched. The life of Catherine both in Germany and finally in Russian is well versed in both brilliance and struggles. Massie is excellent at showing the reader that what happens in a person's past definitely affects their future decisions. The one thing I think readers will take away from this book, even not remembering a thing about Catherine is that: she did not die by having sex with a horse!