Supposedly ""the story of Catherine's first three lovers . . . and the role they played in her erotic life and rise to power,"" this is actually a slapdash potpourri from the court history of Catherine's early years (up to 1764)--with fitful digressions, confused presentation of the authors' research findings, and only the spottiest attempts to provide key historical contexts. Here, then, is the familiar rundown on young Catherine's problematic sex life, largely based (like most other Catherine tales) on her iffy Memoirs: her marriage to Imperial heir Peter, anatomically incapable and emotionally impossible as a husband; the pressure for pregnancy; the eventual affair with virile, dumb Sergei Saltykov (though Nikolaev and Parry are sure that the newly potent Peter sired baby Paul); the longterm relationship with suave, elegant diplomat Stanislas Poniatowski (future Polish king); and the useful arrangement with ""that magnificently virile young animal,"" Gregory Orlov, who (with his brothers) helped Catherine in her coup against husband Peter III. But here also, to no apparent purpose, are palace subplots and background fillers: the sex life of ""Catherine's insatiable royal aunt,"" Empress Elizabeth; a tour of Parisian brothels (supposedly to establish the milieu as ""a vital part of young Stanislas' education""); the muddled tale of Catherine's secret dealings with British diplomats; unfocused emphasis on Catherine's relationship with Princess Vorontsova-Dashkova; a ludicrous attempt to sketch in Catherine's post-1764 reign in an epilogue; and rehashings of the deaths of Peter III and Ivan VI (the evidence re Catherine's guilt/ responsibility). In sum: ineffectual detail, inconclusive musings, tabloid prose--and, despite inklings of fresh (but undocumented) research, nothing that you won't find on better display in the several reputable Catherine biographies.