X-posted to LibraryThing, Early Reviewers (where I gave it 4.5 stars).Robert K. Massie has a talent for writing biographies that read like fiction. Catherine the Great is an absorbing read – partly because her life was so fascinating, partly because of Massie's engaging style. He paints a portrait of an 'enlightened autocrat' who is powerful yet rules with tolerance and without cruelty (he mentions quite a few times Catherine's opposition to the uses of torture and her tolerance of religious minorities in Southern Russia). He attempts to uncover motivations for her actions through her memoirs and letters. Massie speculates about her choices of favorites and about her relationship with her son Paul. In fact, the book is largely about Catherine's relationships with other people: her mother, empress Elizabeth, Peter III, her favorites, and the heads of foreign states like Frederick II.My only real problem with this book is that Massie mentions Platon Zubov, Catherine's last favorite, a few times in a way that makes the reader expect a whole chapter on the man, yet never really offers any more information. (Perhaps it's because I have an ARC and something is missing?)I think this would be a great biography to start learning about Catherine's fascinating life and reign. It would also be a good book for somebody not particularly familiar with Russian and European history of the time, as some background is provided throughout the volume.