Scholars and historians have been puzzling over Peter the Great's (1682-1725) bizarre blend of social progressivism, personal cruelty, and duplicity for nearly three centuries. But Troyat, author of three previous portraits of Russian rulers (Catherine the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Alexander of Russia) refuses even to speculate on possible sources and motivations of Peter's aberrant behavior. He seems content to present the who's, what's, and when's of the story while scanting the why's. The result is a highly detailed sketch that in the end lacks an overall design. Peter's ""Westernizing"" of a Russia shackled by ignorance, xenophobia, religious intolerance, and political instability is well known, as are many of the details of his personal life--his drunkenness, his lechery, his enthusiastic embracing of just about every capital sin, in fact, save sloth. Without some imaginative probing below the surface for an innovative interpretation of these details, the author attempting yet another biography faces the charge of overfamiliarity. Troyat, in his latest volume, unfortunately stands convicted, despite some plea-bargaining in a final section encapsulating previous biographical attempts. Joan Pinkham's translation from the French is a curious melding of the lack-luster, the slangy, and the overly erudite. Terms like ""booze,"" ""noggins,"" and ""this stud"" are placed in uneasy conjuction with clichÃ‰s like ""blinded by love"" and such Latinisms as ""ingnrgitate."") Fascinating in its parts, but ultimately disappointing as a fully-rounded delineation.