on 16 February 2012
Robert K Massie's book about Nicholas and Alexandra is a very good read. The research seems to be well done, and accords with other accounts I have read. The narrative is beautifully constructed and it flows nicely. The author builds up a coherent picture of the life and times of the last Tsar, and starts this with a short but interesting precis of the reign of Alexander III, Nicholas' father. As expected of a biography, it goes through the life of Nicholas and Alexandra and the children, but also to a lesser degree, those closest to the royal family which helps to build up a picture of the Romanov world.
I learned an incredible amount from reading this book and found myself shuddering with horror at many of the decisions made by both the Tsar and the Empress, but I suppose that is benefit of hindsight and knowing how the decisions would affect the royal future.
If I had one criticism of this book it would be that the author is too sympathetic to the Romanovs. Both the Tsar and Empress made some appalling decisions, which even without the benefit of hindsight should have been obvious to them both, yet this seems to be brushed over. The decisions are made and the author appears to go to great lengths to excuse such decisions. This behaviour is particularly obvious during the Great War when Nicholas was at Stavka and Alexandra was in St Petersburg making the decisions, with the advice of Rasputin dripping in her ear. This approach always makes me uncomfortable when reading a biography as I understand the need for the author to understand, and even like or admire his subject, but to become an apologist for them is one step beyond.
However, this book is well written, a delight to read and well worth investing in. I would recommend it.
on 28 September 2013
This is a well-written review of the reign of Russia's last Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra. Be aware of two things - if you want facts you're better off looking in an encyclopaedia than a history book (although there are plenty of facts in the book) and secondly this book was written in the late 60s so feels a little dated. Even for those of us who remember and experienced the Soviet Union at first hand, talk of Soviet era politics and mores feels like another universe. That is not to say that this is not a thoroughly researched book. (I am certainly not qualified to comment on the accuracy of any facts stated in the book.) However, this is a book with a very clear thesis about the reign of Nicholas and Alexandra and what, above all, went wrong. Massie's thesis is that Nicholas and Alexandra's troubles could to a large extent be traced to one source - the fact that their only son and heir suffered from haemophilia. Massie writes exceptionally perceptively and movingly about the Tsarevich's illness, how painful its symptoms were, the mother's agony at knowing that she had passed it on to her son (having inherited the faulty gene) and the difficulty of treating it and her desperation to try any treatment that might ease his suffering. I found the author's theory very compelling but I have not read enough about this era to know whether other historians of the period may have comprehensively rubbished the theory since the book was written. In any event, it is a compelling read based on thorough scholarship. Even if you profoundly disagree with Massie's sympathetic view of Nicholas and Alexandra you will not feel that you wasted your time reading it.
on 7 May 2002
Robert Massie has written an excellent historical biography, as I knew very little about the events that led up to the Tsar's death. But the book was made up of interesting historical reading without getting boring or monotonous. Through reading this it has led me onto other Russian ruler's biographies and Russian history books.
on 5 October 2014
This is an absolutely engrossing account of the story of Tzar Nicholas II and his family. The story begins with Nicholas, his early years, his eventual marriage to Alexandra of Hesse und bei Rhein (although here she is referred to as Alexandra of Hesse-Darmstadt); and covers their life together and the triumphs and failures of his reign as the last tzar of all the Russias. The author's main thesis is that the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was the result of the haemophilia inherited by their son and heir, Alexis. After having produced four daughters and obviously not wanting to alarm the country that the heir to the Russian throne might not live long enough to actually reign, the tzar and his family chose to close themselves off from the public and remain intensely private. Unfortunately this did not help their popularity at a time when the country was turning against them. Plus, because of the incredible pain of watching her son suffer, Alexandra turned to the mysterious Rasputin for help. Her reliance on him, a shady and immoral character, and his over-involvement in government turned the people further against them and their downfall became inevitable, as they could not explain Rasputin's presense for fear of acknowledging Alexis's haemophilia. Whether Rasputin really was the reason for the end of the dynasty, as Massie suggests, or just the catalyst remains to be discussed, but the story is still a fascinating one. The descriptions of life in Imperial Russia are beautiful and the tender story of the family's personal life is touching, but like many of the reviewers I found that the author has a particular soft-spot for the Tsar and therefore explains away many of his (and his wife's) very real mistakes. But the account of the last Tzar is so interesting for many reasons, not least of which is their tragic and horrifying end. This is a great book to begin a study of Russian history and I highly recommend it.
This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for what feels like forever, and now I finally have I wish I'd read it earlier. Massie is one of those authors who makes history not feel like history - he really brings it to life and makes it feel real and immediate. Reading this book, I really felt like I was reading about people, real flesh and blood people with thoughts and feelings and dreams. Too often history reduces people to 'historical figures', cyphers for the great events surrounding them.
And I liked these people, especially Nicholas. He definitely seems like one of those figures from history for whom inheriting a crown was possibly the worst thing for him. He reminds me of King Stephen in a lot of ways - he lost so much when he won the crown. Nicholas comes across as such a good kind man - a loving husband, a wonderful father, a man who truly and deeply loved hisw country and wanted the best for her. But he was not a good Tsar, he was not a good leader. I found myself reading this book with increasing dread, knowing what was coming and wanting it to be different, for his sake.
What I found most fascinating about this book is how history can come down to the smallest of things. 'For the want of a nail', and all that. That one small boy's suffering and misfortune could shape the fate of the world... With Alexis' haemophilia there would have been no Rasputin; without his influence Alexandra would not have interfered in government so much; there would have been more stability, and the hatred that deflected from her to the rest of the family wouldn't have been so vicious and corrosive; had Nicholas not felt he needed to fight for his son's inheritance because his son was too weak to do it himself, Russia might have drifted naturally from autocracy to the kind of constitutional monarchy that England had. Had the monarchy not fallen there would have been no Revolution, no Bolsheviks, no Lenin and Stalin, no Soviet Union - and who knows what the world would have been then?
on 8 October 2002
This is a sensitive narration of the life and death of Russia's last Tsar and his tragic familly. Massie writes clearly and eloquently and succeeds in bringing his characters to life and developing a genuine empathy with them.
Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra emerge as rather sad and pathetic characters, pathologicaly out of touch with reality and hopelessly unqualified for their inherited role. Massie's fascinating thesis is that the Russian revolution may have been brought about by a haemophilia gene passed along from queen Victoria. That is probably an extremely romanticised view of history that would exhonerate Nicholas too much. A more likely truth is that the tragic end of Tsarist Holy Russia was an accident waiting to happen. Here was a flawed system built on fragile people. That fragility more than anything else is what comes across from reading these pages.
on 2 April 2013
Like the previous reviewer I bought this for 99p and have yet to finish it but so far I am totally engrossed in the story.
It is so well and clearly written and each character so well described that you can understand how chains of events happened. I knew how closely all the royal families were related but didn't realise how close they were also. Or how differently history could have gone. For example the whole family (meaning queen Victoria's) had wanted Alexandra to marry George V's older brother who died. You can only think 'what if ....'
Tsar Nicholas appears to have been a good man, thrust into this terrifyingly powerful position at a young age with no experience due to the early death of his father. In awe and under the influence of his powerful and strong minded uncles, he made mistakes right from the outset of his reign. The fact that his mother and wife did not like each other didn't help matters.
I would say the chapters are fairly long and this is not the type of book you can easily dip in and out of, that's why as I work at a school I've saved it for the Easter holidays.
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on 16 June 2011
...the first being way back in the 1960's. It is quite rare actually to find a book which is not only so well researched and written, but SUPER engrossing - even Suspenseful (though we know the general story)!! There are so many interesting details, plots and sub-plots it makes ones head spin. And has there ever been any real character like Rasputin?! In my first read back in summer of 1969 I started early one evening and read through entire night into the next morning - did the same next evening until I finished. This is on my personal 'Top 10' list of all-time favorite reads...
on 8 July 2015
Having studied the Russian language and spent time in Russia as a university student I have long been interested in the history of the country. The last Tsar and his family and their sad fate has always intrigued me.
Robert K Massie has written an excellent, if lengthy book, covering the span of Nicholas' life. We are given the background to his family, his marriage to the German Alexandra, and his journey through family and political life. Mr Massie also gives us good background on other important characters in the story such as Lenin and Rasputin, as well as major events of national and world importance, especially World War 1. The book is detailed and thorough in its approach, but is still very readable by the layman.
It took me quite a long time to read the book, but I'm glad that I did so. I felt that Robert Massie gave a very balanced approach, presenting the information as gathered from various sources. I certainly didn't feel that he was taking any particular party's "side", but was just presenting us with the facts as he saw them. The book was quite eye-opening and I feel that I've learnt a lot and begun to understand more about the Russia of the last Tsar.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Romanovs and the last days of Imperial Russia. It is to be noted though that the book is the electronic version of Mr Massie's 1967 book of the same title. As such it doesn't cover the later discovery of the bodies of the family, and the subsequent tests to prove exactly whose those bodies were. Also, please note that the main text of the book finishes at around 77% of the way through. The rest of the book is largely taken up with the extensive notes and bibliography necessary for such a well researched work.
on 3 July 2013
Some reviewers have criticized Massie for being too sympathetic towards his subjects, or for not writing enough about the plight of the peasants and workers. To tackle the first: Nicholas and Alexandra have been portrayed as heartless monsters or dimwitted nincompoops in many history books. Massie tries to, well not perhaps correct this view but tell the story from their perspective. He freely admits that the royal couple made many mistakes and took wrong decisions, but not because they were inherently bad or stupid, but because they were out of touch with reality, surrounded by sycophants as they were, and steeped in a tradition of autocracy and fatalism which made them unreceptive to sound advice. (Read Miranda Carter's "The Three Emperors" if you want Nicholas to be portrayed as a bloodthirsty simpleton.) The plight of the workers and peasants features in the periphery of the book, because it is, and was meant to be, a biography of Russia's last royal couple, and not a history of revolutionary Russia per se. (Orlando Figes's "A People's Tragedy" would be a good choice.)
The book is rich in detail about the daily life of the royals, where and how they went about their businesses and offers insightful biographical details of the most important figures surrounding them, such as Anna Vyrobova, Stolypin, Witte, Yussupow, Lenin, Kerensky and, of course, Rasputin. Throughout the book, which often reads like a novel, there is the constant Damoclean notion of tragedy. Although of course the Romanov's ultimate fate is known, Massie's writing skills are such that the reader is kept hoping that they, or at least the children, will be spared the terrible fate which befell them. After having read it for the third time, I can also say that it is to Massie's credit that, although the book was published 1968, the style of writing hasn't dated at all.