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Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,058 ratings  ·  164 reviews
"Michael Farquhar doesn't write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin's smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist

Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the
Paperback, 368 pages
Published July 8th 2014 by Random House Trade
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Start your review of Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia
☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~  ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣
What the hell is this? Is this what's called 'history' these days? Is this what passes for a book?? An exercise in misplaced bigotry is what it is!

I firmly believe that any of our private lives could be made into debauchery, murder, madness and so on... Like this:
Suffering from clinical depression? => MADNESS identified!
Having more than 1, 2, 10 sex partners? => Debauchery identified! Slut-shaming mode enabled!
A king? => O horror, it's autocracy!
Being introverted? => Unsuited to ruling.
Wikipedia must be sick of my constant searches on the Russian Tsars. Then I end up looking up the various side relations (cousins, brothers, sisters, Grand Dukes) and, hours later, can't remember which Tsar I had started with, so I start the process all over again. This book is very handy and provides the Wiki team with some relief from my "so which Tsar was the one who was killed" (quite a few).

The book focuses on the Romanov family, first beginning with the explanation for the end of the previ
Caidyn (he/him/his)

Surprisingly enjoyable. I went in here for trash on the tsars, and it wasn't as trashy as I expected. Actually, it was highly interesting because I know next to nothing about the Romanov dynasty. I thought it was sort of like Japan's, where there literally had been only one line of people from start to finish. However, apparently that's not right and so right from the first chapter I learned something I didn't know.

The things before Catherine the Great (and Empress Elisabeth's family in gener
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

Perhaps it is unfair to read this book after reading Elephant Company, which was the type of book that made me want to go find everything else by the author. This isn’t the first Farquhar book I’ve read, and last year I read Hughes book about the Romanovs.

But it’s Farquhar. Even when he writes about things you know like the back of your hand, he is hilarious. It’s a joy to spend a few hours reading one of his books. He’s like th
Mar 27, 2014 rated it liked it

3.5 Stars

**Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review**

This was a great introduction to the Romanov dynasty. I'm a little embarrassed to admit the only people I already really knew anything about was Catherine the Great and Anastasia. This was a great book to pick up and put down when you had a few spare minutes. Each chapter is sprinkled with really great footnotes. These weren't really needed, but they were great additions. I liked that the auth
Christoph Fischer
Mar 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia" by Michael Farquhar is a well written and easy to read account of the private and public lives of three hundred years worth of Russian Emperors and Empresses.
Focusing on the violence, the back stabbing and adultery, this reads like a historical soap opera, thanks to the lives of the tsars.
Although a lot will never be known for sure, the author seems to have done enough resear
May 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian-history
This was an audio book that I started because I had mind-numbing task for work to do--and I needed something to occupy the 99.5% of my brain the task wasn't going to occupy. I wanted something fun, light-hearted, and nothing that would make me cry (this is a vital consideration as I was at work).

Russian history, especially of the Romanovs, is just fascinating. You almost have to forcibly put the early rulers with their Western Europe contemporaries to understand the dramatic contrast in culture
Apr 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Just as well written as the other books by this author I have read but this one is so depressing. It is disheartening to believe that so many generations of the same family could be so cruel and heartless. Mr. Farquhar's other books are generally about the nastier side of history but the others I have read are also entertaining. This one lingers in my mind as hurtful.
Peter Wolfley
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. Their history is so strange and bloody it makes U.S. history look like Seasame Street. The stories in this book are so bizarre and shocking you will find yourself doubting your very sanity. I can’t decide if I should dig deeper into Russian history or just give up now.
Carrie Mansfield
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
*An e-ARC was received through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review*

Normally I try and review books much closer to publication time, but given today’s political environment, a review of how Russia came to be Russia seemed rather fitting. For although the Romanovs have been off the through just shy of a century now (97 years to be exact) if you look at the leadership of the Soviet Union and now Putin, there is a sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I wa
Mar 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Concise yet vivid accounts of tsarist regimes, unsparingly honest about cruelty, brutality and indifference to the lives of others. The complex political and familial connections within each regime are presented in a way that will jar the memories of readers already familiar with Russian history and pique the curiosity of readers with less familiarity. Good notes at the end of each chapter, and frequent references to other historians and biographers within the text that may inspire readers to se ...more
Apr 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Secret Lives of the Tsars is amazingly a well researched and documented lives of the rulers of Russia. I really enjoyed reading about the Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. Even reading about Rasputin. This period of Russian history always fascinated. I liked learning about them and their life. As well as, the other rulers in history. I believe this was an interesting read.
4 stars.
Dec 20, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Non-fiction read about 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. Not overwhelming..just enough information so that you can learn something about each Russian ruler from 1682 until 1917. Of course the one most are familiar with is Nicholas II who is related to Queen Elizabeth II's husband-Prince Philip and it was his DNA they used when they unearthed (1991) Nicholas II and his families' grave pit to determine it was really them. I've read quite a lot about Nicholas II and his families' demise ...more
Richard Thomas
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: europe
Fairly banal and unchallenging survey of the Romanovs. If you know Russian history, you won't get much new from this but as a holiday read it's fine.
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: royalty
Easy reading; totally transported.
Sep 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This gives you a good overview of the history of the Romanovs and a real look into the personalities of each Tsar, which is what made it for me. Russian history is complicated, but this book makes it easy to digest and makes you want to learn more.
Apr 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Today's post is on Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, And Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar. It is 349 pages long and is published by Random House. The cover is illustrated pictures of the various Romanov Tsars. The intended reader is someone who likes history, and Russian history. There is some language, sex, and violence in this book. The story is told from third person perspective with letters, dairies, and other first hand res ...more
Cori Edgerton
Dec 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Just like with any royal family, the Romanovs were no strangers to sickly, misunderstood, downright mad, yet once in awhile great rulers. In his book, Farquhar tells the interesting, scandalous, and shocking tales of the Tsars that ruled the Russian Empire for 300 years from the dynasty's beginning with Michael to its bloody end with Nicholas II.

I very much enjoy Russian history so I liked the book, but unfortunately I already knew most of the juicy secrets that were discussed by Farquhar since
Jun 24, 2015 rated it liked it
This is a very accessible orientation of the Romanov dynasty. It covers the tsars in a gossip-rag style, devoting about a chapter to each tsar (with the exception of Nicholas II, who gets three chapters to his downfall).

The book was light and easy to read, and it helped me straighten out some of the tsars (I remember Ivan, Peter, Catherine, and then I get muddy until Alexander III). I would call this a very light history (no real original research - Farquhar cites most of the more serious biogra
Danielle Dandreaux
Oct 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, russia
This book is about all of the Romanov Tsar's, Emperors and Empresses. The first two thirds of the book focuses on the violence including punishments to citizens and deaths of the royal family and their sexual escapades. I was leaning towards two to two and a half stars til the last third of the book. It was like reading the Enquirer about historical figures. There was not a lot of details, especially related to the accomplishments of some of these figures. I was particularly disappointed with th ...more
Josh Johnson
Feb 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I guess this book delivered on what it promised: An entertaining and brief overview of 300 years of Romanov rule in Russia. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that the portrayal of most of these rulers remained two-dimensional. Even in summary form, a more well-rounded portrait could have been presented. Instead, Farquhar writes like the sleepy student in the back row of a Russian history class whose ears perk up only at the mention of sex and violence.

Perhaps now I’m the one being unfair, as I’m
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for three hundred years, is examined sovereign by sovereign.

Most of the books about royals focus on England, so it was nice having such a great overview of the Russian monarchs. There was a lot I didn't know, and the book is written in a style that's easy to read, and almost conspiratorial in its gossipy nuggets. There were only a few quibbles I had. First, a big deal was made of the fact that sisters of the Tsars couldn't marry early on, but later talk wa
Nicholas Lefevre
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
This was my 4th Russia book in as many months and will probably end my binge. That is not a criticism of the book. If you are interested in the three centuries of Russian history spanning the mid-1600's to the early 1900's, this is a very interesting and accessible survey. While it does concentrate on the Tsars, particularly their foibles (little things like mass murder), it gives sufficient context to put it in Russian and European context. Having recently read the biography of Catherine the Gr ...more
Nicholas Aune
Jun 13, 2014 rated it did not like it
It's hard to say if any of the the biographical details in this book could be described as "secret". Most of the scandalous information about the Romanov dynasty covered in he book was publicly and internationally known at the time. The author eschews any tsar he deems as boring as well as any meaningful commentary on the actual policies of the tsars, and instead spends an unnecessary amount of time focusing on Catherine the Great's sex life (as if she never accomplished anything else). Also, th ...more
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
I dont really know what I was expecting given the subtitle. But something better. This is too juvenile and too boring. Useless details of Tsars' lives are mentioned like some huge scandal. It's like a tabloid minus the entertaining fakery. I give the extra star for the truthiness and the research that has gone in (but it's such a waste).

Also I read this as audiobook, and Enn Reitel who narrates it is the worst narrator I have ever heard. He does not merely. Pause in the middle. Of Sentences. He
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoy all of Michael Farquhar's books and was happy that he finally tackled the Tsars. As usual, he had some things that are fairly well known, Tsar Nicholas and family. While other things were you may never have heard of, Ivan the Terrible hitting the Tsarevitch's wife until she miscarried then when his son came to confront Ivan he hit his son on the head and killed him which eventually ended his line. It was a bit harder for me to get into than his other books and I had to take a few breaks ...more
Meh. More of a brief popular history of the Romanov dynasty. I was already familiar with all of the dirty/crazy bits and the Farquhar's style is not as humorous as the quoted reviews would lead you to believe. For Russian history, I'll stick with Massey.
Marsha Boyd
Sep 09, 2015 rated it did not like it
Horrible. Do not read. Do not touch this book. It is filled with just plain errors. I wanted a quick easy history read but this is not it - so many mistakes. I cannot believe this got past a publisher. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.
Jill Crosby
Jan 07, 2017 rated it did not like it
Nothing new, nothing secret here. Just a quick, occasionally incorrect narrative of the public policies of Russia's tsars. Draws heavily on Robert Massie & Greg King's scholarship; a disappointment ...more
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Michael Farquhar, a former writer and editor at The Washington Post, is the bestselling author of numerous books, including the critically acclaimed Behind the Palace Doors and Secret Lives of the Tsars, as well as the popular Penguin "Treasury" series: A Treasury of Royal Scandals, A Treasury of Great American Scandals, A Treasury of Deception, and A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans. He ...more

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