Friday 14 December 2018

Guest Review: The Romanovs: 1613-1918 By Simon Sebag Montefiore

Since I have a mega film reviews post coming at you on Sunday I have one of my usual sport and history sunday guest reviews for you today-what a treat!

The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world's surface. 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. 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, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets. Written with dazzling literary flair, drawing on new archival research, THE ROMANOVS is at once an enthralling chronicle of triumph and tragedy, love and death, a universal study of power, and an essential portrait of the empire that still defines Russia today.

Review: This is a very comprehensive history of the Romanovs, the dynasty that ruled the Russian empire for 304 years from 1613 until the abdication of the last Tsar in 1917. I listened to this book in its audio version; the physical book includes illustrations, maps and a family tree showing the relationships of the various members of the dynasty.

A total of 20 Romanovs ruled the Russian empire during this period. The first of the dynasty was Michael I, who was elected Tsar by a delegation in 1613, and the final Tsars were Nicholas II, who abdicated in 1917 in favour of his brother Michael II who was Tsar for a day before he too abdicated. Both brothers were killed in separate incidents in 1918 following the Bolshevik revolution. Nicholas was murdered alongside his entire family, including his son the 13 year old Alexei, in the city of Yekaterinburg. The story of the Russian empire over this period is one of expansion, conquering vast swathes of land in Ukraine, the Caucusus and Siberia. Two of the rulers earned the epithet of "Great", these being Peter the Great, who expanded the empire to the Baltic Sea, and Catherine the Great, who expanded the empire to the Black Sea.

Russia did not develop governing assemblies in the same way as the rest of Europe, so effectively remained as a medieval autocracy until the dynasty was overthrown. The Romanovs ruled by having an inner circle of nobles to whom favours were granted in exchange for loyalty and military service. In this way, the Russian nobles could compete for these favours without having to resort to civil war. Therefore, the Romanovs were able to retain power until revolutionary fervour against their autocratic rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries forced their abdication and ultimate demise.

Simon Sebag Montefiore has used a number of new archival sources to bring to life in great detail a range of colourful characters and the often bizarre rituals of their courts. As expected, there is a greater volume of source material for the more recent Tsars, so accounts of their lives are more extensive than those of earlier Tsars, including extracts from some very racy love letters from one Tsar to his teenage mistress.

The author likes to draw comparisons between the Tsars and those who have ruled Russia or the Soviet Union since their overthrow. There is an epilogue to the book in which these rulers from 1917 to the present day are discussed. I found the book, despite its length, to be an interesting and very detailed account of one of the most successful ruling dynasties of Europe.

To order your copy now, just click the link: UK or US

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