Peter the Great

Peter the GreatI’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.

2012 Reading List

At the beginning of the year I set myself the goal of reading 36 books. Not much of a goal, really, as that’s the number of books I’ve read on average since I started keeping a list in 2008. So in effect my goal was to read an average number of books. I hit the goal back on the 21st. I started reading The Coldest Winter, not expecting to finish it until well into next month. But then Genae brought a brand new book home from the library for me, with a seven day limit on it, so I managed to sneak another one in to exceed the goal by one.

I’ve been thinking that my goal for 2013 should be 32 because I have several very long books coming to the top of the “to-read” list. The third Game of Thrones book weighs in at nearly a thousand pages, Massey’s Peter the Great is something like seven hundred, and Manchester’s MacArthur bio is on the order of eight. Each of those should count for two! But I’ll keep it at 36 and aim high.

Here’s the 2012 list.

Date Title Author Pages Subject
01/09/12 The Assault on Reason Gore, Al 308 Politics
01/22/12 A Clash of Kings Martin, George R. R. 760 Fantasy
02/08/12 Millard Fillmore Rayback, Robert J. 470 Bio – Pres.
02/12/12 Red Orchestra Nelson, Anne 388 WW II
03/04/12 Stalin: Triumph and Tragedy Volkogonov, Dmitri 642 Biography
03/06/12 The Fear Index Harris, Robert 286 Fiction
03/18/12 War in the Sun Hodson, James 449 WW II
03/27/12 Hitler’s Peace Kerr, Philip 448 Fiction
04/21/12 Franklin Pierce Nichols, Roy Franklin 625 Bio – Pres.
04/25/12 Counterfeiter Nachtstern, Moritz 288 Holocaust
05/11/12 Europe and the French Imperium Bruun, Geoffrey 280 History
05/21/12 Fatal Crossroads Parker, Danny S. 390 WW II
05/23/12 The Sharp End Ellis, John 372 WW II
06/05/12 Catherine the Great Massie, Robert K. 625 Biography
06/20/12 1943: The Victory that Never Was Grigg, John 248 WW II
07/17/12 Caesar’s Women McCullough, Colleen 696 Fiction
07/22/12 American Miracle Sill, Van Rensselaer 301 WW II
08/14/12 President James Buchanan Klein, Philip Shriver 506 Bio – Pres.
09/01/12 Existence Brin, David 556 Sci Fi
09/10/12 Penalty Strike Pyl’Cyn, Alexander 204 WW II
09/16/12 The Great Gates Sprague, Marshall 468 History
09/20/12 Fate of Worlds Niven, Larry; Lerner, Edward M. 317 Sci Fi
09/27/12 From Nazi Sources Sternberg, Fritz 208 WW II
10/16/12 The Transparent Society Brin, David 384 Politics
10/18/12 Escape from the Deep Kershaw, Alex 270 WW II
11/02/12 With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln Oates, Stephen 492 Bio – Pres.
11/05/12 Lionel Asbo: State of England Amis, Martin 255 Fiction
11/08/12 The Flame Keepers Handy, Ned 325 WW II
11/10/12 Team Lotus: My View from the Pit Wall Warr, Peter 240 Motor Sports
11/16/12 A Dead Hand Theroux, Paul 279 Fiction
11/25/12 The American Axis Wallace, Max 465 History
12/06/12 Caesar McCullough, Colleen 664 Fiction
12/08/12 Rome Was My Beat Packard, Reynolds 338 Memoir
12/11/12 Stormtrooper on the Eastern Front Blosfelds, Mintauts 207 WW II
12/15/12 Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million Amis, Martin 320 History
12/21/12 The Battle of Midway Symonds, Craig L. 452 WW II
12/30/12 Hell in the Pacific McEnery, Jim 305 WW II