Having read this as a stand alone, I did not feel like I missed anything by not reading The Winter Palace, though I will be reading it at some point.
I do feel like I learned a great deal about Catherine the Great. I knew that she could be shrewd, but I can understand why for the most part. She really did what she had to, to benefit Russia. She was hard and stubborn but she did some great things. Now the debauchery, I know it was big at that time, but she really enjoyed herself. Even in her old age she was enamored with young men. You could say she got around more than enough corners in her life, considering most of her children were not her husbands', and they all had different fathers, still it was not her and her husbands' child to come next in line. Even with that, she did not let her infidelities interfere with her running Russia.
A great deal of thought went into this book, you can tell, and I know a lot of you will enjoy the way it is laid out and written.