Peter the Great - His Life and World

Robert K. Massie

The biography Peter the Great, by Robert K. Massie, is undoubtedly the definitive biography in the English language of Russia’s greatest tsar.  Peter was born in 1672 and died at age 53 in 1725.  He is the tsar who brought Russia into the modern world.  When he became tsar Russia was a backwards, isolated people.  Peter dragged his country, at times against their will, into the modern world and into the European orbit.

He imported all kinds of scholars and ideas from Europe.  He brought reforms to the Russian Orthodox Church.  He built a powerful navy when Russia had no navy and no port at the beginning of his reign.  He built a very strong army that did battle with and eventually defeated the mighty Swedish army, which was the most powerful army in Europe when Peter took office.

Peter was an unusual man.  He was not educated in the classical sense, but he was smart and he was endlessly curious.  He loved to build things with his hands.  He could be generous and kind, but he could also be severe and autocratic.  There is no doubt that he came to rule Russia with an iron hand, and that included a severe taxation and burden to support his strong army and navy.

He built St. Petersburg from scratch after capturing that land from Sweden, and he moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg.  He lived with so much drama, becoming a co-tsar at the age of 10 during a bloody and dangerous revolution.  He fought off his half-sister in a battle for power.  He would later imprison his own son, who would die young.  There were continuous intrigues within and wars without.  In so many ways, Peter the Great was a titanic figure who would become the most influential tsar in Russia’s history.

This is a fascinating story, well told by the master biographer, Robert K. Massie.