Although mainly a scissors, paste and rewrite project from secondary sources, this account of the fevered career of Catherine de' Medici is lucid, and in matters of historical controversy, generally judicious. (""Women"" in the title encompasses the peripheral treatments of Henry IFs mistress Diane de Poitiers and Catherine's handsome, headstrong daughter Marguerite.) Strage traces the life of Catherine from the roil of Italian city-state politics which brought her to France to wed the future Henry II; through the lives and deaths of Francis I, Henry II and the wildly unstable sons, years of knife-edge diplomacy and violence in and out of chambers; to the last attempts to save the Valois dynasty. Like Irene Mahoney in her original and firmer Madame Catherine (1975), Strage feels that Catherine's prime motivation was to steady the Crown for her sons. As for the Bartholomew's Day Massacre, it is Strage's judgment that Catherine was ""not by nature a cruel or vicious woman,"" and although not above eliminating political opponents, she was not prepared for the ""runaway magnitude"" of the slaughter. By a careful untangling of plots and counterplots, and by convincing portrayals of a series of unstrung Valois Strage elevates Catherine, if not to sainthood, at least to eminence as a statesman with a kind of dour heroism.