I’m working on few long term projects. I’ve been reading whole-life biographies of the American presidents, in order, starting with Adams. I’ve been thinking I’d read Washington when I’ve finished all the rest. I finished Andrew Johnson a couple months ago and just ordered a Grant book. I didn’t suddenly one day decide to do this. I enjoyed the Adams book and thought I should read more about Jefferson. They both worked with Madison, and before I knew it I decide to keep going.
I’ve been reading Russian history for quite a while, at first mostly World War II. I have a copy of Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra that I read half way through thirty odd years ago. I read Catherine the Great shortly after it came out. I read a Stalin bio a year or two ago, and intend to read the same author’s Lenin book. I’ve had this Peter book for several months but I’ve been a bit intimidated by its 855 pages of smallish print. Now that I’ve finished it, I’ve decided to read about all the key Russian rulers. The key ones, not all of them, and obviously not in order. I just put Ivan the Terrible and Alexander II on the want list. After those, maybe three more Romanovs and Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev. I anticipate it will take me a decade or more to finish the American presidents, but this Russian list I can knock off in three or four.
So, to Massie’s Peter. It’s subtitled His Life and His World. This describes the book in five simple words. Peter’s entire life is examined, and Massie deftly places it in context. We learn the social and religious settings of the time and place – the women secluded in the terem; a church schism over whether to cross using two fingers or three. The big story of Peter’s life is fleshed out with sidetracks to his nemesis Charles XII, the Sun King Louis XIV, and George I, the German on the English throne. Plus, many small stories of Peter’s advisors, generals and admirals, ambassadors and statesmen.
Peter led quite a life. Witnessed the murder of family and friends in the Streltsy uprising when he was ten, had his own son tortured to death, fought wars, built ships, drank like a maniac, had seizures all his life, and built a great city. Was married twice, had mistresses, and gave his second wife the story book rise from foreign peasant girl to Empress and autocrat. All this in fifty three years.
Overall, I thought the book was excellent. Given its length, it was a relatively quick read. I feared it would take a month, but it’s quite the page turner. I was never bored, and the many side trips really place Peter in context. I found it a good history of Europe of the time with a particular emphasis on Russia’s part. I haven’t read much history of that particular time and I found it quite informative and interesting. Sometimes when I finish a book I wish it had been shorter or longer. Even at 855 pages, I felt this one was just the right length.