Having read many books about Rasputin, I am not sure that this book really uncovers too much that has not been speculated on or discussed before. However, the author certainly does write a very readable account of Rasputin's life and had access to documents and archives previously closed to researchers. This does mean that he can answer questions, such as the actual date of Rasputin's birth and there are many letters he can quote from which give a flavour of the kind of man Rasputin was. This is really fascinating, for there are few figures in history which have evoked such a passionate response from people - positive and negative - both during their lifetime and after their death. Rasputin, "the mad monk", the lover of the Tsarina, the man who ruled the Tsar, the miracle worker, the healer, the charlatan, the hypnotist, the drunk, the lecher and the fraud. He was called many things in his time and this is a good and balanced account of his life, which tries to uncover what he was really like.
Rasputin was, of course, born a peasant and remained proud of that fact all his life. He was virtually illiterate, learning only the basics of reading and writing in adulthood and expected to spend his life in the small village he was born and raised in. Instead, as the author vividly writes, when (admittedly not totally from choice) he went on a pilgrimage he was "leaving the confines of a small Siberian village and stepping onto the pages of history." It was in the Siberian monastery of Saint Nicholas where he was converted and the monks gave him a crash course in reading and writing. He claimed to have a vision on his return to the village and left for another pilgrimage, although his father scoffed that he, "became a pilgrim out of laziness." It is clear that even his own family suspected his motives and he was constantly dogged by suggestions that he was not sincere, that he has joined a sect, or that he was in league against the Church.
Arriving in St Petersburg in 1903, there is little doubt that Rasputin was ambitious and used people to open doors to the socially well connected in the city. However, it is not as clear cut as it first seems and although Rasputin took money from his followers, he also gave much away. The book obviously concentrates on his relationship with the Tsar and Tsarina once he was introduced to them and the reliance Alexandra felt for "Our Friend" once she was convinced he could heal her son, Alexei. The disastrous combination of a weak Tsar, the guilt of Alexandra, the hemophilia that affected their son and heir and the way Rasputin influenced political decisions, led to him being blamed for virtually all of Russia's problems. The author carefully peels away the myths and looks at how much power Rasputin actually had and what influence he played on events.
Overall, this is a really interesting read, and a fantastic addition to the books about this remarkable man. Reading reports about his drunken, debauched behaviour it is frankly incredible he lived as long as he did. Still, he swaggered through society, taking petitions and bribes, sending out notes to all and sundry (such as one given to an aspiring opera singer to hand to an official - "fix it up, she's all right" it reads simply) and bragging about his relationship with the "Old Girl" and his influence with the Tsar. In a country that was out of control, with disastrous political decisions, a war dragging on and a constantly changing stream of politicians coming in and out of office, it was clear that Rasputin's notoriety was simply too much to be accepted. Again, the book looks at his assassination, who was responsible and what the results of Rasputin's death had. If you are interested in who Rasputin was this book will answer your questions. It is amazing that such a man, who by rights should have stayed on the land and lived and died unknown, is still being talked about today. I think he would be proud of that fact somehow.