Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
by Robert K. Massie
5 of 5 stars
This was an excellent, riveting, read.
Catherine was a fascinating woman who came to Russia from Prussia when she was fourteen to marry the ridiculously perverse future King Peter with whom she had a loveless, miserable, and sexless marriage.
She nonetheless triumphed. A disciple and friend of Voltaire, Diderot, and the ideas of the Enlightenment, she was a true intellectual and intense life long reader, who spoke, read, and wrote Russian fluently. In fact she was fluent in four or five languages and was obviously an intellectually gifted individual.
She ruled Russia for 44 years, during which time she fought and won several wars. She supervised the building of many architecually significant palaces and museums. She was a patron of the arts and collector of a world class collection of art.
She spent several years researching and writing the “Nakaz,” which was a modernization of Russian law based on the ideas of the Enlightenment in which she attempted to codify an enlightened government’s obligation to it’s people and the people’s obligation to society based on a set of just and fair laws. In the Nakaz she sought to eliminate all torture and capital punishment. She tried and failed to set up a system which would result in the freeing of serfs. She was writing about the dignity and rights of man, before these ideas were championed across the pond, in America by people like Thomas Jefferson. She urged the humane and fair treatment of serfs and the elimination of corporal punishment. Her Nakaz was said by some historians, to be one of the most remarkable written codifications of law written by a sitting monarch.
She also had insatiable sexual appetites and had a long string of lovers, many quite younger than her, well into her later sixties, really up until her death. She was like a female Henry VIII, plucking up handsome young courtiers well into her dotage. Monogamy didn’t seem to hold much appeal for her. This of course makes for very interesting reading!
Like all of Massie’s books, this book will thoroughly educate you about this period of Russian history and thoroughly interest you in the process.
“Hemingway’s Fetishism” is a thoughtful, detailed, thorough and fascinating exploration of Hemingway’s complex and often dark psyche. It is most interesting to read this book followed by several other books that expand and explore similar themes from other family member’s perspectives. Several that I would recommend include:
“Strange Tribe,” by John Hemingway. This book is by Hemingway’s grandson and explores the gender bending proclivities and transvestic behaviors of both his father and grandfather, and their struggles with bi-polarity, alcohol, and suicidal depressions.
“The Hemingway Women,” by Bernice Kent, examines Hemingway’s troubled relationships with his four wives.
“Hemingway and Gelhorn,” by Jerome Lucille chronicles their wartime relationship.
If you follow this up with a re-read of “Moveable Feast,” you will have some new and interesting insights into the psyche and writing of Ernest Hemingway.
All of these books tend to corroborate and expand upon the themes addressed in Eby’s book which explores the relationship between Hemingway’s hyper-masculine personality and his gender confusion, fetishism, transvestitism and depression. The book is not reductive. The author is not dogmatic. He constantly points out potential weaknesses in his analysis. His respect for Hemingway, the author and person shines through, but he doesn’t, like so many others before him, shy away from addressing “the elephant on the dining room table,” namely the artificial construct of Hemingway’s uber-masculine personae and the sexual conflicts this was attempting to conceal.
The book is comprehensive and fascinating. It begins with Hemingway’s early childhood. It explores some of the roots of his challenges, with a dominant mother who dressed her son in dresses long past the age it was fashionable to do so. It explores his distant relationship with a cold and disapproving father who committed suicide. It looks at his odd relationship with his first wife, where his obsession with emulating her hair fully presents itself, to the deteriorating relationships with all his subsequent wives where his fetishism is played out in remarkably similar ways in each relationship.
The narcissism of Hemingway’s chronic fetishism is fully evident in these and other family relationships.
For anyone interested in Hemingway, in better understanding the themes and imagery in his books, and the familial origins of paraphilias, this book is a fascinating read.
Endgame 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of WWII by David Stafford
Endgame 1945 is an historical narrative told from the perspective of eyewitnesses, about the final three months after VE Day in Europe. It covers in detail events leading to the deaths of Hitler and Mussolini, the liberation of concentration camps and the challenges faced by allied occupying forces contending with the mass human trauma of war devastated Europe. It describes the Herculean task faced by relief agencies dealing with displaced persons and the traumas experienced by German women and children in Allied occupied Germany.
This book is a tour de force. Stafford is a brilliant writer and historian and his subject, these specific three months, has been mostly neglected by historians. This is a riveting, compelling read that is difficult to put down and stays with you long after you finish reading it. The extent of the trauma in Europe was mind boggling. The task of restoring order, sisyphean. The heroism of the allies incredible and the suffering of so many hard to contemplate.