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Best books by Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great is most famous for being a Russian monarch who lived during the Russian Age of Enlightenment. However, she was also a prolific writer. In addition to all the books and letters she wrote, many authors have also published books about her. This article will go through the best Catherine the Great books—both the books she wrote and the books written about her. Check out our quick book reviews of the titles listed below.

Who was Catherine the Great?

Catherine the Great, born Sophie Friederike Auguste, was the German-born empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. At age 14, the German princess arrived in St. Petersburg to marry Karl Ulrich, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and heir to the throne of Russia. During the reign of the Romanovs, she continued with Peter the Great’s work, leading her country to participate in Europe’s political and cultural life. Catherine the Great wanted to establish a reign of order and justice, develop a national culture, and spread education. However, she had too many projects and couldn’t successfully carry them all out. With her ministers, she reorganized the law and administration of the Russian Empire and extended its territory, adding much of Poland and Crimea. To finance her many projects, she imposed serfdom on Ukraine, which had been free until then. By the end of her reign, few free peasants were in Russia.

Quick facts about Catherine the Great

  • It took eight years for Catherine the Great and Peter to produce an heir. It was rumored at the time that her eldest son, the heir, may have been illegitimate.
  • It was widespread knowledge she had numerous lovers, even before her husband’s death.
  • She conspired with the regiments to have her husband, Peter III, arrested in 1762 and proclaimed herself empress.
  • The French philosopher Voltaire and Catherine the Great corresponded for 15 years and became great friends and mutual admirers. However, they never met in person.
  • Her son Paul had the same destiny as his father. Five years after he became czar, he was assassinated.
  • Contrary to rumors, Catherine had an uneventful death. She had a stroke and died the following day.

The best books by and about Catherine the Great

The best books about Catherine the Great include several memoirs. Here are the best books both by and about the Russian monarch.

Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II

Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II is a book she wrote and was published in 1859. These memoirs cover the period between 1729-1759. They were not meant to be published, and after the empress’s death, they were entrusted to her son Paul. However, a copy was leaked, and the manuscript became public domain, which caused the anger of Tsar Nicholas I, who ordered the destruction of every copy. This diary contained revelations of foul play within the royal household, which could be dangerous if subjected to public scrutiny. The first official publication of the book was in 1859 when Herzen obtained a copy of the manuscript.

Love and Conquest

Love and Conquest is one of the best biographical love stories. In 1774, Catherine the Great took Grigory Potemkin as her lover, and some believe they even married. Catherine and Potemkin were also political companions. He served as the de facto co-ruler of the Russian Empire. The love letters published in this book cover their entire romance, from his letter during the Russo-Turkish War in 1769 to the last note he scribbled one day before his death. Their letters are both political and personal, full of the passion and vitality that so well described Catherine the Great’s personality.

Documents of Catherine the Great

This is a must-read book for anyone interested in Catherine the Great’s reign, eighteenth-century history, and especially Russian history. The content is divided into two sections. The first contains the 159 letters between Catherine and Voltaire, who she often referred to as her thinking instructor. The second section comprises instructions to the Commissioners for composing a new Code of Laws. The letters are in original French, and the rules were translated into English. This book also provides a chronological table covering the events between 1762 and 1777.

The Memoirs of Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great was an avid writer and fluent in various languages. She wrote about numerous subjects like journalism, comedies, operas, history, and political theories during her reign. Her memoir covers every important event in her life, starting with her arrival at the Russian court at age 14. Through her diaries, she shared compelling information about her private life, including her unhappy marriage to Peter III, her two children, multiple miscarriages, and the numerous lovers she and her husband had. On the political side of the story, she shared the maneuvering that led Catherine to seize the throne from Peter in 1762.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman

Robert K. Massie achieved a thrilling narrative with this Catherine the Great biography. In this New York Times bestseller, his chronicle covers the most remarkable events in Catherine’s life as an empress and many sordid details of her personal life. She’s portrayed as both the empress that her people revered as “our mother” upon her death and the woman with a weakness for drink, who passed her lover’s child as her husband’s heir.

Catherine the Great and Potemkin: The Imperial Love Affair

Using thorough research, Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote this widely acclaimed biography of Catherine the Great and Prince Potemkin’s true story of love and passion. The empress was known for her numerous lovers. However, her heart certainly belonged to Potemkin. They were co-rulers, and their rule's effects define the Russian Empire today.

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is a historical fiction novel inspired by Catherine the Great. It all starts when Princess Sophia arrives in Prussia as the prospective bride of Empress Elizabeth’s heir. Vavara, a Polish orphan schooled with many different skills, was appointed to spy on Sophie. But the young princess was meant to become Catherine the Great, and nothing would stop her.

Great Catherine

Great Catherine by Carolly Erickson portrays the Russian empress as the powerful woman she was. From the moment Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst arrived in Russia to her 1762 empress crowning ceremony in Moscow, she was a great despot who grew the Russian Empire. She also made a great effort to make her country participate in European culture, showing enormous appreciation for French philosophers such as Voltaire and Diderot. This story is a thrilling summary of 18th-century Russian history, told through the eyes of the empress. Her reign included significant historical events, such as the French Revolution, which she hated and feared.

Listen to Great Catherine on Speechify Audiobooks

With Speechify, you can enjoy the best memoirs and biographical stories, including Living Biographies of Famous Women by Thomas Henry and Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry. This easy-to-navigate app is compatible with multiple devices, allowing you to stream audiobooks from your computer or portable devices. Buy individual books or get a monthly membership. You can even buy an audiobook for the perfect gift. Visit Speechify and start enjoying the best stories.


Which is the best biography of Catherine the Great?

Undoubtedly, no one can tell a story better than the main character. Memoirs written by herself, like Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II, or books made out of the compilation of historical documents such as Documents of Catherine the Great and Love and Conquest, are definitely the best biographies of the great despot.

Was Catherine the Great lovers with Orlov?

Yes, he met Catherine when he was an artillery officer. By then, she was the Grand Duchess. They weren’t only lovers, but also conspirators.

Is there a good documentary on Catherine the Great?

A PBS docudrama chronicles Catherine the Great from her departure from Germany, her marriage with Peter III, and the journey that brought her adopted country into the modern world.

What is the most useful book by Catherine the Great?

For those looking to learn Russian 18th-century history, Documents of Catherine the Great is an excellent source of information as it also includes a chronological timeline. See more

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman

Cliff Weitzman is a dyslexia advocate and the CEO and founder of Speechify, the #1 text-to-speech app in the world, totaling over 100,000 5-star reviews and ranking first place in the App Store for the News & Magazines category. In 2017, Weitzman was named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list for his work making the internet more accessible to people with learning disabilities. Cliff Weitzman has been featured in EdSurge, Inc., PC Mag, Entrepreneur, Mashable, among other leading outlets.