What makes Catherine great?
Full of sexual and political intrigue, exhaustive work traces life of a neglected girl who grows up to rule Russia
It is tempting to hurl the usual plaudits at Robert Massie, the closest thing we have to an official biographer of Russian royalty, and be done with it. “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,’’ which fills the gap between Massie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Peter the Great’’ and his books about the end of the Romanov dynasty, is exhaustively researched and dramatically narrated, bridging the complexity of eighteenth-century geopolitics and the nuance of personal relationships. And yet the book’s very thoroughness serves at times to undermine the claims Massie seeks to make.