Peter the Great: His Life and World by Robert K. Massie

Title: Peter the Great: his Life and World
Author: Robert K. Massie, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Published by: Random House Trade Paperbacks, Mass Edition February 1986
ISBN: 978-0-345-33619-4
Length: 880 pages
Subjects: European History, Russia & the Former Soviet Union
References Consulted: Amazon


If I had to choose one word to describe this biography I would say colossal. The author guides the reader throughout the complexities of Peter’s personality against the historical canvas of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe with seemingly like effortless historical narrative.


Massie’s imagery is rich and extensive. It takes a masterful storyteller to intertwine and bring to life the creation of Peter’s incredible army (born from a small group of servants who played in live war games), the fabrication of ships (for his very own Navy) and the events leading up to the foundation of Saint Petersburg in high contrast with an endless procession of noseless, earless, branded men (product of either climate, mercy or wrath) and the drunk, hedonist bacchanals organized by the Tsar’s “Jolly Group” of friends.

Like all Massie’s biographies, this one is no exception: details can either seduce or bore you to death. Although Peter’s description is captivating, the author emphasizes in war and military strategy. Thus, the element of surprise gets lost amongst muskets, gunpowder, cannons, dead corpses and men faced with merciless weather. All painfully described through pages and pages of endless warfare.


  • Politics of seventeenth and eighteenth-century Europe are widely discussed.
  • His second wife, Catherine, seems a haunting character. Hence, worth reading about.


  • A couple of areas of Peter’s life are glossed over while others are very detailed. Hence, his first wife and son are barely mentioned while torture techniques and partying are described in full detail.
  • Contrary to most, I would dare say this is not a book for the casual reader, but for Russophiles and persons interested in European history.

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