'One of the great love stories of history, in a league with Napoleon and Josephine, and Antony and Cleopatra ... Excellent, with dazzling mastery of detail and literary flair' Economist It was history's most successful political partnership - as sensual and fiery as it was creative and visionary. Catherine the Great was a woman of notorious passion and imperial ambition. Prince Potemkin - wildly flamboyant and sublimely talented - was the love of her life and her co-ruler. Together they seized Ukraine and Crimea, defining the Russian empire to this day. Their affair was so tumultuous that they negotiated an arrangement to share power, leaving Potemkin free to love his beautiful nieces, and Catherine her young male favourites. But these 'twin souls' never stopped loving each other. Drawing on their intimate letters and vast research, Simon Sebag Montefiore's enthralling, widely acclaimed biography restores these imperial partners to their rightful place as titans of their age.
To my taste too often words like “probably”, “surely”, “undoubtedly” are used. Two other examples of this style: a document “almost smelling of gunpowder” (how does something almost smell?) and “the first truly democratic parliament in Russian history until 1991” (still the first even after 1991).
Catherine and Prince Potemkin were in the thick of all the political events in the second half of the 1700s. They, especially Potemkin, prosecuted the wars against the Ottomans in the southern reaches of Russia. I makes me wonder if what happened then still affects current events. Was Vladimir Putin merely taking back what was Russia's when he annexed Crimea? (I realise that the Ukrainians believe Potemkin's leadership joined Crimea to Ukraine, not Russia.) Similarly, one sees the seeds of the conflict between Russia (Stalin) and Germany (Hitler) in 18th century tensions and wars between Russia, and Prussia, the Hapsburgs, Poland and Austria.
However, this book is much more than just dry history. It reveals the social history of the top-end of Russian (and European) society. Potemkin may have been (read: was) an extreme example of someone who lived this life, but it's fun and instructive to read. I'm no scholar of Russia history, but I understand that this extreme lifestyle of the Romanovs kindled the revolution some 150-100 years later. This is despite Potemkins apparent kindness and compassion, also for the serfs.
The author appears to have made some remarkable discoveries when searching the records and archives. He seems to have set straight the accepted story that Potemkin was all show and no substance. The book presents the case that Potemkin was one of the most influential people in modern history.
Prepare yourself for reading about lots of things you do not need to know about and will forget; but also prepare yourself to learn a lot more.
One regret - it seems it was first published with colour photos; by paperback version had only low quality black and white photos.