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Peter the Great: His Life and World

de Robert K. Massie

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2,282294,907 (4.36)83
This biography of the notorious Russian ruler examines his background and accomplishments, detailing the armed conflicts during his reign and scrutinizing his transformation of medieval Russia into modern Russia.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 29 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
I recently read this book over quarantine, having never read really
anything about Russian history. I checked it out from my library's
electronic catalog on whim during a bout of insomnia, mostly hoping
that it would bore me to sleep. Unfotunately, my plan didn't work:
/Peter the Great/ is a readable and enjoyable piece of popular
history.

What I liked: the book is a breeze to read. I have sometimes heard
this style of writing dubbed as "narrative nonfiction" and I think
that's a really apt description. The chapters are short and full of
novelistic details that avoid making the book a slog. I also really
liked /World/ pieces of the book. The author devoted a lot of
energy to giving context on the political situation in Europe in the
late 17th and early 18th centuries. This certainly helped me,
someone who hadn't done any prior reading on this, appreciate and
understand Peter's diplomatic maneuvers. More importantly, the
short and colorful sketches of the lives of that periods most
important figures helped break up any potential monotony through the
900 pages of material. These includes pieces on Louis XIV, William
of Orange, Charles XII, and George I as well as some minor figures
like the Duke of Marlborough, Vauban, and the (many) people named
Frederick.

What I didn't like: The book focuses of heavily on warfare and
diplomacy. I personally found the nitty-gritty details of 18th
century naval and land warface boring. There is little on how Peter
managed in the internal governance of Russia until late in the book
and it's not exhaustive. The relatively scant material (in addition
to the lack of chronology), makes it hard to appreciate Peter's
contribution on this front. The emphasis of the external, while
perhaps making the book more readable (see above), also has the
effect of downplaying the terrible toll Peter placed on the people
of Russia to pay for war and modernization.

I also found some of the writing a bit dated. Some of the
descriptions of Russian peasants ("a simple people") are kind of
offensive. The author also seems to be a bit credulous when cititng
Peter's own writing and using it to define him. Of course, if one
read Peter's letters he does come across as wholly invested in work,
but you also just devoted 10 pages to a 3 day bender he went on.
C'mon man.

Overall: I wouldn't read this book expecting to come away with a
definitive understanding of Peter, or Russia, or 18th century
geopolitics in Europe. But if you want an interesting introduction
to some of the most important figures and events of the time, you
could do worse than this book.

PS: I read this book on Kindle, which has it's advantages (no need
to carry around an 900 page novel.) But beware the well-known ebook
defect of poor image quality. In particular, the maps (which are
really useful as a companion) are unreadable. ( )
1 vote eherbst | Jun 21, 2020 |
Robert Massie is a master at documenting history. " Peter the Great" is not only the story of Peter’s life and Russian history, but encompasses the entire European theater during the late 1600s and early 1700s when Peter was on the throne. The final sentence of the book reads, “He was a force of nature, and perhaps for this reason no final judgement will ever be delivered. How does one judge the endless roll of the ocean or the mighty power of the whirlwind?

Peter was everything one could wish for in a leader: strong, resilient, fearless, intelligent, and always striving for the best for his beloved Russia. He sacrificed his son Alexis, heir to the throne, to save the Russian Empire. He never asked of anyone something he would not do- or give- himself. He fought side by side with his army in every battle. He shunned elaborate protocol and approached all people as if they were his equal.

The book was quite tiresome in some sections reciting every detail about battles and political strategy with foreign leaders. And in other sections it was intriguing and quite fascinating. Try to imagine the Tsar Peter at age 10 playing war with real guns and real ammo – and real soldiers.
Or picture him as a wild and crazy teenager with his own personal drinking club called “The Jolly Company”. One chapter is titled “It is Impossible to Describe Him.” And indeed, it is.

Through documented sources Massie was able to reconstruct entire conversations and meeting bringing Peter the Great to life, literally 300 years after his short life on earth ended. In his mere 42 years as Tsar he managed to change Russia forever, bringing the country out of the Medieval traditions and antiquated customs. Peter westernized Russia introducing a whole new way of life including a political system with a senate, imported foreign goods, the arts and technology, hospitals, newspapers, and western social customs.

With disdain for rule by autocracy, here is one example where the good outweighed the bad. He believed in Capitalism and supported entrepreneurs. He approved women’s rights. He knew there was a heavy human cost to pay for Russia’s prosperity, but he also desired to see his country’s citizens happy, healthy, and thriving financially. He was far more humane than any of the Communist/Socialist rulers that followed him.

If you are an avid reader and have an unquenchable thirst for Russian history you will enjoy this 860- page tome which includes maps, photos, and the Romanov family tree. ( )
  LadyLo | Dec 23, 2019 |
What an amazing story. Peter is an incredible character. Peter's youth, his love of sailing, his trips across Europe, the development of the Russian navy and St. Petersburg, his conflict with Sweden (under Charles XII), his palaces, the atmosphere in Europe, his torture and killing of the Tsarevich, on and on.

> "It is an age of gold in which we are living," Peter himself wrote to Menshikov. "Without loss of a single instant, we devote all our energies to work." He was a force of nature, and perhaps for this reason no final judgment will ever be delivered. How does one judge the endless roll of the ocean or the mighty power of the whirlwind?

I'd like to know more about Peter's governance of Russia. It's not missing, but his decrees are mostly just stated, out of order and context, and I'd like to know some of the stories behind them. I'd also like to know more about the historiography of Peter, which is only touched on a couple times.

The writing is very good, and the book is hard to put down.

> There was a tax on births, on marriages, on funerals and on the registration of wills. There was a tax on wheat and tallow. Horses were taxed, and horse hides and horse collars. There was a hat tax and a tax on the wearing of leather boots. The beard tax was systematized and enforced, and a tax on mustaches was added. Ten percent was collected from all cab fares. Houses in Moscow were taxed, and beehives throughout Russia. There was a bed tax, a bath tax, an inn tax, a tax on kitchen chimneys and on the firewood that burned in them. Nuts, melons, cucumbers, were taxed. There was even a tax on drinking water.

This list reminded me of Robert Caro, in "Working": "I thought I could have a rhythm that builds, and then change it abruptly in the last sentence. Rhythm matters. Mood matters. Sense of place matters. All these things we talk about with novels, yet I feel that for history and biography to accomplish what they should accomplish, they have to pay as much attention to these devices as novels do." ( )
  breic | Jun 18, 2019 |
A wonderful biography that paints a multifaceted portrait of a very extraordinary man. Extremely well written, informative and entertaining. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2019 |
This is a biography of Peter the Great, who was Tsar of Russia in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Of course, it’s also a history of Russia at the time. Entwined with that (due to wars) is some history of Sweden.

I should start by mentioning that I listened to the audio. It was very very loooooong. And boring. At least, the entire looooong middle section about warring with Sweden (or Tsweden, as pronounced by the narrator – like tsar; and unfortunately, we also got words like tsea and tsince), just isn’t all that interesting to me, so I tuned out. The stuff about Peter’s family life and Russian architecture – that held my interest a bit more, but not by much, unfortunately. But, oh my god – listening to that guy pronounce many words starting with ‘s’ as if they start with ‘ts’ - gaaahh! I should also add that I do find the history/biography of women more interesting to start with. Also, I seem to prefer female narrators – not all the time in either case, but often. So, all those factors may have lessened my interest in this one. ( )
  LibraryCin | Apr 17, 2018 |
Mostrando 1-5 de 29 (seguinte | mostrar todas)
The specialist cannot in good conscience recommend this book to fellow historians. Yet it would be misleading as well as unfair to leave it at that. For Massie's work strikes this reviewer as, at the same time, an outstanding example of that somewhat ambiguous literary genre known as popular (or commercial) history... A colorful, dramatic, at times gripping story is told here in fine detail and effortless prose.
adicionado por eromsted | editarThe American Historical Review, James Cracraft (pay site) (Oct 1, 1981)
 
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For Mary Kimball Todd and James Madison Todd

and in memory of Robert Kinloch Massie
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This biography of the notorious Russian ruler examines his background and accomplishments, detailing the armed conflicts during his reign and scrutinizing his transformation of medieval Russia into modern Russia.

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