The best books on Catherine the Great

Voltaire Foundation

She was born in 1729 as Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, a German princess, but by 1762 had become Empress of All Russia and went on to rule for 34 years as Catherine II. She regarded herself as an enlightened despot who embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment and consorted with the Frenchphilosophes. Russian historian Andrei Zorin introduces the remarkably industrious and able politician who is remembered as Catherine the Great.

Before we get to the books, could you briefly tell us who Catherine the Great was? She was born a German princess, I believe. How did she become Empress of Russia and what is her claim to ‘greatness’?

Andrei Zorin, Leo Tolstoy (Chicago, 2020).

Yes. Catherine was a German princess. Germany, which had more than 20 different states, was a pool of eligible princes and princesses for royal marriages. Catherine’s was a very small and poor principality, Anhalt-Zerbst, devoid of…

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