It's a great story, anyway, if not always edifying. The ingenuous and love-starved (so she later described herself) Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, married to the heir of Russia, endured her inane husband and his capricious aunt, the Empress Elizabeth, for eighteen years and then seized power as Catherine II. She was clever, unscrupulous, hard-working, charming, passionate, and, not least important in a ruler, lucky. Joan Haslip, who showed her talent for presenting royalty with both glamour and failings intact in Lonely Empress (1965) is coolly appreciative of Catherine's abilities and her flaws. Haslip examines seriously Catherine's claims to the title ""Great,"" noting her achievements in foreign policy and her coldness to the social reforms she paid lip service to when corresponding with Diderot and Voltaire. Every philosophe and every amour and confidante gets a page or two, with sympathy and cynicism for all, and the reader will feel at home in the period. Not much new by way of conclusions or research, but an easy, straightforward style and a broader summing up than in most books on Catherine for the general audience.