While Peter the Great would steer Russian destiny firmly west toward Europe, it would be left to five empresses to survive court politics, conniving relatives, and the perils of childbirth to carry this vision forward throughout most of the 18th century. These books tell their stories and the story of St. Petersburg itself.


Five empresses : court life in eighteenth-century Russia      Evgenii V. Anisimov ; translated by Kathleen Caroll  Empresses Russia Biography.  Westport, Conn. : Praeger, 2004 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. 375 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.     Includes bibliographical references (p. [355]-368) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

From the untimely demise of the 52-year-old Peter the Great in 1725 to nearly the end of that century, the fate of the Russian empire would rest largely in the hands of five tsarinas. This book tells their stories. Peter’s widow Catherine I (1725-27), an orphan and former laundress, would gain control of the ancestral throne, a victorious army, and formidable navy in a country that stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Next, Anna Ioannovna (1730-40), chosen by conniving ministers who sought an ineffectual puppet, would instead tear up the document that would have changed the course of Russian history forever only to rule Russia as her private fiefdom and hunting estate. The ill-fated Anna Leopoldovna (1740-41), groomed for the throne by her namesake aunt, would be Regent for her young son only briefly before a coup by her aunt Elizabeth would condemn Anna’s family to a life of imprisonment, desolation, and death in obscurity. The beautiful and shrewd Elizabeth (1741-61) would seize her father Peter’s throne, but, obsessed with her own fading beauty, she would squander resources in a relentless effort to stay young and keep her rivals at bay. Finally, Catherine the Great (1762-96) would overthrow (and later order the murder of) her own husband and rightful heir. Astute and intelligent, Catherine had a talent for making people like her, winning them to her cause; however, the era of her rule would be a time of tumultuous change for both Europe and her beloved Russia.

In this vivid, quick-paced account, Anisimov goes beyond simply laying out the facts of each empress’s reign, to draw realistic psychological portraits and to consider the larger fate of women in politics. Together, these five portraits represent a history of 18th-century court life and international affairs. Anisimov’s tone is commanding, authoritative, but also convivial—inviting the reader to share the captivating secrets that his efforts have uncovered.

 

Sunlight at midnight : St. Petersburg and the rise of modern Russia      W. Bruce Lincoln  Saint Petersburg (Russia) History  Boulder, CO : Basic Books, c 2002 Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. viii, 419 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG/VG

For Russians, St. Petersburg has embodied power, heroism, and fortitude. It has encompassed all the things that the Russians are and that they hope to become. Opulence and artistic brilliance blended with images of suffering on a monumental scale make up the historic persona of  W. Bruce Lincoln’s lavish “biography” of this mysterious, complex city.

Climate and comfort were not what Tsar Peter the Great had in mind when, in the spring of 1703, he decided to build a new capital in the muddy marshes of the Neva River delta. Located 500 miles below the Arctic Circle, this area, with its foul weather, bad water, and sodden soil, was so unattractive that only a handful of Finnish fisherman had ever settled there.

Bathed in sunlight at midnight in the summer, it brooded in darkness at noon in the winter, and its canals froze solid at least five months out of every year. Yet to the Tsar, the place he named Sankt Pieter Burkh had the makings of a “paradise.” His vision was soon borne out: though St. Petersburg was closer to London, Paris, and Vienna than to Russia’s far-off eastern lands, it quickly became the political, cultural, and economic center of an empire that stretched across more than a dozen time zones and over three continents.

In this book, revolutionaries and laborers brush shoulders with tsars, and builders, soldiers, and statesmen share pride of place with poets. For only the entire historical experience of this magnificent and mysterious city can reveal the wealth of human and natural forces that shaped the modern history of it and the nation it represents.

 

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