One month later . . . I finally finished Peter the Great. This one’s for you, Ash:
Assassins did not frighten Peter, but there were creatures before which he trembled: cockroaches. When he traveled, he never entered a house until he had been assured that no cockroaches were present and his own room had been carefully swept by his own servants. This followed an episode in which Peter, as a guest at dinner in a country house, asked if his hst ever had cockroaches. “Not many,” the host replied, “and to chase them away, I have pinned a living one to the wall.” He pointed to the place where the insect was pinned, still squirming, not far from the Tsar. With a roar, Peter leaped from the table, gave his host a tremedous blow and rushed out of the house.
It was there! I was starting to wonder, since it didn’t turn up until page 799.
That’s not all. Peter was fascinated by dwarves, perhaps because he was 6’7,” and collected them and played with them like toys. He especially liked for them to leap out of cakes at banquets.
He hated formality and would sleep in the meanest room available when he traveled, often shunning luxurious rooms to shoo servants out of their quarters and sleep on a pallet on the floor.
Of course, the book covers more than these details. And it’s practically a biography of several other European leaders of the time, especially Charles XII of Sweden, Peter’s nemesis for more than 20 years. Massie knows the history and character of Russia inside and out (at least, as far as someone who has never been there can tell). You couldn’t have this level of detail without that depth of knowledge.
Highly recommended despite the length. But pick up the hardcover. I finally found one for $2 at McKay’s (heaven! more about that later) and the last 200 pages went a lot faster.