Summary and book reviews of The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The Romanovs

1613-1918

by Simon Sebag Montefiore

The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2016, 784 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 784 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

INTRODUCTION

Heavy is the cap of Monomakh.
—Alexander Pushkin, Boris Godunov

The greatest empire is to be emperor of oneself.
—Seneca, Epistle 113

It was hard to be a tsar. Russia is not an easy country to rule. Twenty sovereigns of the Romanov dynasty reigned for 304 years, from 1613 until tsardom's destruction by the Revolution in 1917. Their ascent started in the reign of Ivan the Terrible and ended in the time of Rasputin. Romantic chroniclers of the tragedy of the last tsar like to suggest that the family was cursed, but the Romanovs were actually the most spectacularly successful empire-builders since the Mongols. The Russian empire, it is estimated, grew by fifty-five square miles (142 square kilometres) per day after the Romanovs came to the throne in 1613, or 20,000 square miles a year. By the late nineteenth century, they ruled one sixth of the earth's surface— and they were still expanding. Empire-building was in a Romanov's blood.

In ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The intrigue, scandal and violence that were part of everyday life for members of the imperial court make salacious reading. I'm somewhat amazed no one's yet made a mini-series about the dynasty; they were much more ruthless than the Tudors and the ruling family was in power for more generations than the Caesars (a family to which I was constantly comparing the Romanovs). Reading about the extensive political maneuvering and manipulation called to mind The Game of Thrones – on steroids. If it weren't so well documented one would think the tsars and their minions were products of a disturbed imagination.   (Reviewed by Kim Kovacs).

Full Review (914 words).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Finishing this hefty read will take effort, but the reward is worth the time. Fans of Russian and world history, those who enjoyed the author's previous works, and anyone interested in royal intrigue and betrayal will find great pleasure here.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A magisterial portrayal of these 'megalomaniacs, monsters and saints' as eminently human and fallible.

The Daily Mail (UK)

Panoramic ... Montefiore tells it compellingly.

Financial Times (UK)

Simon Sebag Montefiore's The Romanovs is epic history on the grandest scale ... A story of conspiracy, drunken coups, assassination, torture, impaling, breaking on the wheel, lethal floggings with the knout, sexual and alcoholic excess, charlatans and pretenders, flamboyant wealth based on a grinding serfdom, and, not surprisingly, a vicious cycle of repression and revolt. Game of Thrones seems like the proverbial vicar's tea party in comparison."

Literary Review (UK)

Captivating ... The story of the Romanovs has been told countless times but never with such a compelling combination of literary flair, narrative drive, solid research and psychological insight ... Montefiore writes with subtlety and sophistication about the nature of court life, the dynamics of power and the shifting configurations of the various players.

The Spectator (UK)

With its sordid power struggles, violence and brutality, its cast of magnificent monsters, tragic victims and grotesque 'holy men,' this is an extraordinary and gripping tale... By turns horrific, hilarious and moving, but ultimately tragic, this is essential reading for anyone interested in Russia.

The Evening Standard (UK)

Wonderfully compelling and insightful ... The Romanovs is the gripping and scarcely credible tale of the most successful royal dynasty since the Caesars, and Sebag Montefiore tells it brilliantly.

The Times (UK)

An impressive book that combines rigorous research with exquisite prose.

The Observer (UK)

Montefiore's journey through 300 years of the Romanov dynasty is a study of brutality, sex and power ... riveting ... the research is meticulous and the style captivating.

The Observer (UK)

Montefiore's journey through 300 years of the Romanov dynasty is a study of brutality, sex and power ... riveting ... the research is meticulous and the style captivating.

The New Statesman (UK)

Sebag Montefiore expertly selects the best (most shocking, bizarre, sensationally theatrical) bits ... Sebag Montefiore is alive to the way his story resonates across time, from Genghis Khan to Gorbachev, but he doesn't allow his erudition to hold up the narrative's gallop ... with great gifts for encapsulating a character and storytelling con brio.

The Daily Express (UK)

As much a riveting read as a prodigious work of scholarship ... he could not have picked a better time to publish this epic and enthralling history of a dynasty that rose up drenched in blood and died out in exactly the same manner.

The Mail On Sunday (UK)

Simon Sebag Montefiore has written a magisterial account of unlimited power and sexual decadence based on a remarkable correspondence.

SAGA magazine (UK)

With ease and expertise, Simon Sebag Montefiore brazenly presents the Romanov royal history as a mesmerizing family saga, always spectacular and finally in 1918, tragic.

The Bookseller (UK)

It's like reading 20 riveting, plot-thickening novels in the space of one volume. And the packaging looks equally scintillating.

The Sunday Express (UK)

Despite the extraordinary depth and range of his research, the author avoids the dryness of more academic volumes. Instead he embarks on a rollicking, racy narrative across more than three centuries of Romanov rule, weaving a tale that is packed with salacious gossip and gruesome details.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Sebag Montefiore's book is an immensely entertaining read ... it features some of the most outrageous characters you are likely to find in a history book ... The story of the last Romanovs has been told a thousand times, yet it is a tribute to Sebag Montefiore's skill as a narrator that you turn the pages with horrified fascination.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

A glorious history of the Romanov dynasty bursting with blood, sex and tears.

The Independent (UK)

Simon Sebag Montefiore's blockbuster history of the Romanov dynasty arrives with exquisite timing ... The historian's account of the last months, days and hours of the Romanovs will not disappoint ... [and] show Sebag Montefiore's narrative bravado at its scintillating best. There is unlikely to have been a racier account of how the last Romanovs met their end ... Masterly.

The Sunday Express (UK)

In another great work of history, Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Jerusalem, tells the bloody and decadent stories of the 20 tsars and tsarinas of Russia's last imperial dynasty. The Romanovs is like 20 gripping novels in one.

Sydney Morning Herald

The Romanovs deserves the best praise any book can get: it never bores ... Montefiore has much to say about political machinations as he does about personal friendships and love which lifts his work far above drily academic history.

Reader Reviews

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The Kremlin

"Kremlin" is the Russian word for a castle or fortified complex, and many Eastern European cities, including Novgorod, Smolensk and Kiev have one. Most people however, associate the Kremlin with the seat of the Russian government in Moscow.

The site of the Moscow Kremlin, a hill near where the Neglina and Moskva Rivers converge, shows evidence of human occupation as early as 500 BCE and some speculate it was inhabited centuries before that. In 1147 Yuri Dolgorukiy, the Grand Duke of Kiev, built a wooden fort in this location; it became both the start of the city of Moscow and the precursor of today's Kremlin. The city grew in size and importance (in spite of being raided by the Mongols in 1208 and again in 1237) and eventually became the...

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