The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.
To rule Russia was both imperial-sacred mission and poisoned chalice: six of the last twelve tsars were murdered. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death while making Russia an empire, and dominated his court with a dining club notable for compulsory drunkenness, naked dwarfs and fancy dress. Catherine the Great overthrew her own husband (who was murdered soon afterward), enjoyed affairs with a series of young male favorites, conquered Ukraine and fascinated Europe. Paul I was strangled by courtiers backed by his own son, Alexander I, who in turn faced Napoleon’s invasion and the burning of Moscow, then went on to take Paris. Alexander II liberated the serfs, survived five assassination attempts and wrote perhaps the most explicit love letters ever composed by a ruler. The Romanovs climaxes with a fresh, unforgettable portrayal of Nicholas II and Alexandra, the rise and murder of Rasputin, war and revolution—and the harrowing massacre of the entire family.
Dazzlingly entertaining and beautifully written from start to finish, The Romanovs brings these monarchs—male and female, great and flawed, their families and courts—blazingly to life. Drawing on new archival research, Montefiore delivers an enthralling epic of triumph and tragedy, love and murder, encompassing the seminal years 1812, 1914 and 1917, that is both a universal study of power and a portrait of empire that helps define Russia today.
Montefiore (Jerusalem: The Biography), a popular novelist and historian of Russia, describes this extensive account of the rise and fall of the Romanov dynasty as a "blood-spattered, gold-plated, diamond-studded, swash-buckled, bodice-ripping, and star-crossed... chronicle of fathers and sons, megalomaniacs, monsters, and saints." But it also reveals the author's imaginative gift for storytelling and research acumen. From the Romanov dynasty's inauspicious beginnings in a remote monastery to its violent end in a provincial basement, the family held the Russian crown for just over three centuries, dramatically expanding Russia's borders and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S.S.R. and the modern Russian Federation. Montefiore addresses questions of great import as well as more prosaic but equally illuminating details of life in the Romanov regime, examining, for instance, how Catherine the Great went from being "a regicidal, uxoricidal German usurper" to becoming one of Russia's most successful rulers and "the darling of the philosophes." Echoes of history resonate through the pages and shed light on the ruthless and autocratic tendencies that have remained salient elements of Russian politics. Montefiore's compassionate and incisive portraits of the Romanov rulers and their retinues, his liberal usage of contemporary diaries and correspondence, and his flair for the dramatic produce a narrative that effortlessly holds the reader's interest and attention despite its imposing length.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I could not read fast enough! This fact packed, easy to read history is wonderful. I love the way the writer tied historical data to today's political scene. This book gave me insight into times and people not well covered in history classes. The only bad thing is that I finished the book. I want more!
Fans of Wier, Fraser (Marie Antoinette)
Reads like non-fiction. Incredibly easy to get lost in. The details are hard to look away from. A must read for lovers of historical fiction.