Putnam wrote his biography of Peter the Great for the general reading public, rather than specifically for young adults. The book’s easily accessible style and its exciting subject have made it a favorite with younger readers. Putnam took no liberties with published sources about the personality and works of Peter. His account of the revolutionary czar’s life is accurate in all of its details.
The Peter the Great who emerges from Putnam’s pages is, as Putnam notes, a “living paradox.” Although Peter undoubtedly wanted to elevate the standard of living of his people and turn Russia into a modern nation, his policies caused enormous hardships and misery for most Russians. Putnam shows how Peter’s foreign policy led Russia into endless wars—which Putnam emphasizes more than any other aspect of Peter’s life—that not only resulted in tens of thousands of Russian soldiers dying on the fields of battle but also imposed nearly unbearable economic burdens on the Russian people, whose taxes financed the wars. Putnam also details the bewildering domestic reforms that Peter imposed on his people to try to Westernize them. The reforms completely disrupted the lives and traditions of most Russians, and they had to be enforced by Russia’s first secret police, which created a tradition of police-state totalitarianism.
Although Putnam obviously admires many of Peter’s accomplishments, he nevertheless criticizes Peter’s methods. As Putnam describes the czar, he was a bloody-handed tyrant, intent on re-creating Russia as he thought it should be regardless of...
(The entire section is 649 words.)