One of the books I'm most looking forward to this fall is—surprise!—not a novel. It's the latest biography of a Russian ruler from Robert K. Massie. His last few books have been on World War I, so it's exciting to see him returning to the subject that made him famous. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House) will be published on November 29.

Though Catherine's eventful life would be a gripping read in any case, I have high hopes for Massie's version: his 1981 book, Peter the Great won the Pulitzer and is pretty much the best bio ever. The first time I read it, while taking a European history class in college, I peppered my friends with tidbits about Peter for weeks. (Roach problem? Peter the Great was afraid of roaches! Your dorm room is too small? The cabin Peter built for himself was only about 700 square feet, and his bedroom was barely large enough for him to lie down! Hate your boyfriend's beard? Take a page from Peter and tell him if he enters your presence wearing one, you'll rip it out!)


By the time you finish, you feel as though you know this temperamental, 6-foot-7 red-headed Russian tsar personally—maybe that's why I hopped straight into his lap when we met inside the Peter & Paul Fortress almost two years ago.

Catherine the Great is possibly the only ruler whose life story can equal Peter's. We're lucky that Massie is planning on telling it! Apologies in advance to my colleagues and friends if my conversation this fall centers on a former German princess who was more beloved by the Russians than her native-born husband, whose assassination she may or may not have participated in . . .

Edited to add: I interviewed Robert K. Massie about this book—check it out here.

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