9 Best Catherine the Great Books
Catherine the Great came to the throne as a German princess and pushed Russia through its Golden Age – many consider her to be the empress that changed the destiny of the country. The situation was not the best when she took over. However, she managed to survive all the challenges around her and run the country for over three decades, until she died in 1796.
Whether you want to learn more about what made her such a loved monarch or you are simply interested in a unique story, here are some of the best-rated and detailed books on her life. Take one Catherine the Great book at a time and get ready to build a whole image of what Russia was before and after the monarch.
Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great, by Isabel de Madariaga
This is a detailed story of one of the most colorful leaders in the world. It provides a detailed and panoramic view of Russia from all points of view – cultural, economic and political. The social aspect is also taken into consideration.
At times, the book is written like fiction, yet it provides a clear representation of history. It is sparkling and funny at times, but also exciting and interesting. It literally transports you back to the 18th century and balances details in a quirky manner.
Based on detailed and meticulous research, it provides a plethora of details that you may not necessarily find in history books. It is a crystal-clear representation of Russia and the changes it has been through over the 18th century – totally worth a read.
Catherine the Great, by Simon Dixon
At times, this Catherine the Great book feels like a biography. Other times, it feels like you are going through a classic history book. It is scholarly, but it also has a refreshing profile. It portrays the charismatic monarch throughout her leadership years – how it all started and how her reign changed Russia.
The book is like a portrait. It describes everything about an extraordinary leader that defined Russia’s best years. It describes how she has managed to rise her power, but also how she struggled to give Russia a new face – engaging and attractive at the same time.
Whether you are new to Catherine the Great or you are a real fan of this monarch, chances are you will find plenty of details that history books miss. There is lots of new material for the seasoned fan, while newbies will be dazzled by the experience.
Catherine the Great and Potemkin, by Simon Sebag Montefiore
This release does not necessarily cover Catherine the Great’s reign and the changes she took Russia through. Instead, it analyzes the relationship between the monarch and Potemkin. Grigory Potemkin caught her eye with his gallantry throughout the coup that gave her Russia’s throne.
The next three decades kept them together. Discover a secret marriage, pure love and a relationship that allowed them to satisfy their appetites for love. Potemkin was more than just a lover though. He was an incredible statesman that helped the monarch find allies and expand her influence throughout Europe.
This book can be described as a biography as well, as it analyzes Potemkin’s accomplishments during Catherine the Great’s reign. The author also describes Russia’s expansion as an empire under the couple’s leadership.
Catherine the Great: Selected Letters, by Andrew Kahn and Kelsey Rubin-Detlev
This book is basically written by Catherine the Great. Sure, she had no thoughts of publishing her most intimate letters in a book. However, the letters have been found and kept in good condition, so they were compiled together in a book that reveals some of her deepest thoughts.
Her personal letters describe an incredible picture of Russia in those times. They also provide more insights into her intimate life, as well as her personal development throughout the reign. Her skills are also clearly defined through her correspondence – whether it comes to military or political abilities.
A golden ruler for more than three decades, Catherine the Great reformed the country and contributed to the expansion of the empire. She promoted sciences and arts and brought in some of the brightest minds around Europe – such as Voltaire and Diderot. All these ideas and plans are clearly expressed in her letters.
Working the Rough Stone, by Douglas Smith
This Catherine the Great book is not necessarily about Catherine the Great, but about life under her reign. The book analyzes the society in the 18th century in Russia, with a strong focus on freemasonry. It is inspired from sources and manuscripts that are not necessarily available to scholars.
In other words, you will discover aspects of the Russian lifestyle that you may not be familiar with. The author also analyzes what drew so many intellectual leaders and bright minds to Russia, as well as the move towards freemasonry, change and progress.
The title is self-explanatory – the society worked the rough stone of all kinds of feelings and thoughts. All these people contributed to the enlightenment of Russia. The author also challenges some old-fashioned notions regarding Russian society.
The Memoirs of Catherine the Great, by Hilde Hoogenboom and Markus Cruse
This is another book that was actually written by Catherine the Great. Again, it was not meant to be a book, but her memoirs and personal thoughts were written down and made into a modern book. The monarch was responsible for supporting the enlightenment move across Russia and this is what most of the book is focused on.
The monarch has also written down thoughts on the expansion plans of the country, as well as her will to dominate and change the empire. Furthermore, there are spicy details about her numerous lovers, as well as her intimate life – everything translated from the original writings.
The memoirs have been translated from more languages. Fluent in German, Russian and French, Catherine the Great wrote her thoughts on Voltaire, among many other famous figures. She wrote about comedies, history, journalism, political theory and so on – everything is now public for those who want to know more about Russia. This is one the best Catherine the Great book on this list.
Love and Conquest, by Douglas Smith
The history has brought in all kinds of romances, but only a few can compare to what Catherine the Great and Grigory Potemkin experienced. He was her main lover, but he also helped her rule the Russian empire. Furthermore, their complicated relationship has led to a secret marriage as well.
Their letters are different from what you might expect from political leaders. These letters are intimate and detailed. Some of them relate to the relationship between them, while others bring in discussions on major political events regarding the expansion and fate of the Russian empire.
The intensity of their relationship is what makes these letters stand out. During the first few months, Catherine the Great was literally consumed by her passion for her lover. All in all, this book brings in some of the most revealing letters of correspondence – letters that have never been translated into English before.
Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II, by Aleksandr Herzen
Catherine II – most commonly known as Catherine the Great – had the good habit of keeping journals and writing memoirs. None of her personal writings has been revealed throughout her reign. Many of them were kept secret until recently – today, everyone has access to her deepest thoughts.
The book was practically written by Catherine the Great, yet her work was put together by Aleksandr Herzen. Get ready to discover insights into the monarch’s life – ideas and thoughts that have never made it to history books.
The memoirs go in more directions. Some of them refer to her dreams of embracing enlightenment and bringing it to Russia. Some others refer to her lovers and tumultuous life, not to mention the plans to expand the empire – definitely a must-read Catherine the Great book if you are interested in Russia.
Catherine the Great, by Robert K. Massie
This is the second book in The Romanovs series. It reveals the life – more or less known aspects – of Catherine the Great. Catherine was a young princess who went to Russia when she was only 14 and turned out to be one of the most powerful women in the world’s history.
Catherine was born in a minor nobility in Germany, but she became one of the world’s best empresses by pure determination. She has always had a curious mind, which challenged her and gave her the motivation to change and expand the Russian empire.
The book follows her entire life – from correspondences with Voltaire or Marie Antoinette and domestic rebellion issues to her husband, children and multiple lovers.
Bottom line, no matter what Catherine the Great book you choose to expand your knowledge or satisfy your curiosity, any of the above-mentioned titles will give you a deeper insight into the monarch’s life and her incredible achievements. From personal memoirs revealing unknown secrets to descriptions of the Russian society in the 18th century, there is a bit for everyone.
If you are interested in Russian history check our book list on Romanovs.