Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Romanovs: 1613-1918

Rate this book
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.

784 pages, Hardcover

First published January 28, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Simon Sebag Montefiore

62 books2,453 followers
Simon Sebag Montefiore is the author of the global bestsellers 'The Romanovs' and 'Jerusalem: the Biography,' 'Stalin: the Court of the Red Tsar' and Young Stalin and the novels Sashenka and One Night in Winter and "Red Sky at Noon." His books are published in 48 languages and are worldwide bestsellers. He has won prizes in both non-fiction and fiction. He read history at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University, where he received his Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD).
'The Romanovs' is his latest history book. He has now completed his Moscow Trilogy of novels featuring Benya Golden and Comrade Satinov, Sashenka, Dashka and Fabiana.... and Stalin himself.

Buy in the UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Night-Winter-...

"A thrilling work of fiction. Montefiore weaves a tight, satisfying plot, delivering surprises to the last page. Stalin's chilling charisma is brilliantly realised. The novel's theme is Love: family love, youthful romance, adulterous passion. One Night in Winter is full of redemptive love and inner freedom." Evening Standard

"Gripping and cleverly plotted. Doomed love at the heart of a violent society is the heart of Montefiore's One Night in Winter... depicting the Kafkaesque labyrinth into which the victims stumble." The Sunday Times

"Compulsively involving. Our fear for the children keeps up turning the pages... We follow the passions with sympathy... The knot of events tugs at a wide range of emotions rarely experienced outside an intimate tyranny." The Times

"The novel is hugely romantic. His ease with the setting and historical characters is masterly. The book maintains a tense pace. Uniquely terrifying. Heartrending. Engrossing. " The Scotsman

“Delicately plotted and buried within a layered, elliptical narrative, One Night in Winter is also a fidgety page-turner which adroitly weaves a huge cast of characters into an arcane world.” Time Out

“A novel full of passion, conspiracy, hope, despair, suffering and redemption, it transcends boundaries of genre, being at once thriller and political drama, horror and romance. His ability to paint Stalin in such a way to make the reader quake with fire is matched by talent for creating truly heartbreaking characters: the children who find themselves at the centre of a conspiracy, the parents…. A gripping read and must surely be one of the best novels of 2013. NY Journal of Books

"Not just a thumpingly good read, but also essentially a story of human fragility and passions, albeit taking place under the intimidating shadow of a massive Stalinist portico." The National

"Seriously good fun... the Soviet march on Berlin, nightmarish drinking games at Stalin's countryhouse, the magnificence of the Bolshoi, interrogations, snow, sex and exile... lust adultery and romance. Eminently readable and strangely affecting." Sunday Telegraph

" "Hopelessly romantic and hopelessly moving. A mix of lovestory thriller and historical fiction. Engrossing." The Observer

“Gripping. Montefiore’s characters snare our sympathy and we follow them avidly. This intricate at times disturbing, always absorbing novel entertains and disturbs and seethes with moral complexity. Characters real+fictitious ring strikingly true.It is to a large extent Tolstoyan …..” The Australian

Enthralling. Montefiore writes brilliantly about Love - from teenage romance to the grand passion of adultery. Readers of Sebastian Faulks and Hilary Mantel will lap this up. A historical novel that builds into a nail-biting drama … a world that resembles… Edith Wharton with the death penalty.” Novel of

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
4,709 (34%)
4 stars
5,347 (39%)
3 stars
2,396 (17%)
2 stars
624 (4%)
1 star
386 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,438 reviews
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,533 followers
June 6, 2017
As astounding and astonishing survey of this epic imperial family, The Romanovs is an incredible and insightful read. Did you know that Putin's grandfather was Rasputin's cook? The horrible fate of the Romanovs made me almost physically ill at the end - I of course was repulsed by their corruption, autocracy, anti-Semitism, and blind devotion to the despicable (yes occasionally wise) Rasputin, their ignoble assassination filled me with horror and sadness.

The Romanov dynasty had an unlikely beginning in 1613 with Michael I being reluctantly brought in to quell the chaos that reigned in Russia at the end of the 16th C in the aftermath of Ivan the Terrible. The Romanov family then ruled with a heavy hand for just over three centuries fraught with politics, intrigue, Times of Trouble, revolutions, wars, and lots and lots of massacres. It was fascinating to learn more about all the Tsars - most of which I had heard about and knew next to nothing about their reigns. The tragedies of Peter III, Paul I, and Nicholas II (and Michael II as well although he was only tsar for a day) were horrific but still the violence was not out of proportion to the times they lived in. I believe my favourite stories in the book were those of the greatest tsars (and tsarinas): Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Alexander I. I had no idea of the incredible sexual appetite of this regime (of all regimes?) and how interrelated they were with the British and German dynasties (Nicholas II's wife Alix was related to Queen Victoria and many of the tsars and their children intermarried with German families). I learned as well that many of the tsars ruled for extremely short periods of time (Paul only 5 years, Ivan VI and Peter III for only a year, and both Constantine and Michael II for a few days or even less!).

The author breaks up the Romanov period into three Acts (Act I: The Rise - Michael I to the advent of Peter I, Act II: The Apogee - Peter the Great to Alexander I, and Act III: The Decline - Nicholas I to II to Nicholas II/Michael II) and each of those into Scenes that are introduced with a very useful casting which helps keep the myriad of names straight which cover the major events of a reign or reigns - or towards the end, the phases of the ultimate fall of the Romanovs.

I really enjoyed Act II Scene 6, the Duel which narrated the great contest of the beginning of the 19th C between Napoleon and Alexander I. It was absolutely fascinating and I realised to what degree that Europe was really saved from Napoleon by Alexander I because the Germans and British were completely sidelined in 1812/1813 and it was the Russian army beat Napoleon in 1814. Having read War and Peace (but having as yet to have neglected to review it :(, I loved learning of the political history behind the meeting of these two geniuses who could have become friends (they were nearly brothers-in-law), but for Napoleon's ambition and Alexander's pride became bitter foes. I learned that Alexander did not order the burning of Moscow. He had returned to Petersburg and left control and decision making in the army to Kutuzov who - faced with either losing the entire Russian army after the incredible carnage of Borodino or losing the capital, chose to live and fight another day. The scorched earth policy was devastating to Alexander, but it turned out to be the right decision as Napoleon squandered his time for a week in Moscow and was defeated by a combination of the onset of wintry conditions and famine and the marauding techniques of the Russian army pursuing him all the way back to Paris. If Alexander had preferred Paris to St Petersberg, we might be speaking more Russian words in Paris than just "bistro" which entered the French vocabulary during the Russian occupation of March to May 1814.

The only drawback to this book is the lack of detailed maps to explain the geopolitics. Otherwise, the writing is excellent (as good as Montefiore's Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar which was excellent!) and the level of research is truly amazing. I believe that Montefiore had access to many documents that have only been accessible inside the Soviet Union or just recently found which allows him to belay certain myths and legends and give the reader a truly interesting and factual history.
Profile Image for Matt.
917 reviews28.2k followers
January 1, 2020
“Two teenaged boys, both fragile, innocent and ailing, open and close the story of the [Romanov] dynasty. Both were heirs to a political family destined to rule Russia as autocrats, both raised in times of revolution, war and slaughter. Both were chosen by others for a sacred but daunting role that they were not suited to perform. Separated by 305 years, they played out their destinies in extraordinary and terrible scenarios that took place far from Moscow in edifices named Ipatiev…At 1:30 a.m. on 17 July 1918, in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg…Alexei, aged thirteen, a sufferer of hemophilia, son of the former tsar Nicholas II, was awakened with his parents [and] four sisters…and told that the family must urgently prepare to move to a safer place…At night on 13 March 1613, in the Ipatiev Monastery outside the half-ruined little town of Kostroma…Michael Romanov, aged sixteen, a sufferer from weak legs and a tic in his eye…was awakened by his mother to be told that a delegation had arrived. He must prepare to urgently to return with them to the capital…”
- Simon Sebag Montefiore, The Romanovs: 1613-1918

Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs is telling a very familiar story about a very familiar dynasty. In terms of scope, very little separates this from, say, W. Bruce Lincoln’s The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias, which follows the exact same historical figures over the exact same time period. But the difference here is that Montefiore has a specific focus. He is not here to analyze autocratic decision-making or gauge the impact of Imperial rule on Russia or the wider world, though those aspects are present. Instead, he locks onto the bloody soap opera that was Russia under the Romanovs and never relents. There are wars, coups, sex, revolutions, betrayals, sex, assassinations, dramatic blunders, sex, torture, catastrophic flaws, a dash of incest, countless affairs, and a real exploration of the limitations of human beings in power. There is also – in case I have failed to stress this enough – a lot of sex. (You will probably want a cigarette after reading some of the love letters between Alexander II and his mistress/eventual wife Katya Dolgorukaya).

The Romanovs begins in 1613, with the ascension of Michael I, the first Romanov tsar. It ends in 1917, with the brutal murder of Nicholas II, the last Romanov tsar (excluding Michael II, who served one day), along with his wife, children, and several retainers. In between, there are all those things mentioned above. This weighs in at 654 pages of text, and it is a decent start if you’re looking to fill the hole in your life left by the end of Game of Thrones.

Montefiore tells this tale in novelistic fashion, structuring his narrative around scenes of dialogue and big set pieces. He sticks close to his main characters and attends to their personalities, their virtues, and their flaws. He peppers his prose with the kind of conversational interjections you’d expect from a guy at the pub, such as his reference to Alexander I (who Montefiore finds underrated by history) as a “metrosexual.”

Certainly, Montefiore has a way with words. For example, when discussing the many enemies of Empress Alexandra (wife of Nicholas II), he states that they libelously “depicted a traitorous German pornocracy with naked lesbian hellions Alexandra and Anna [Vyrubova] in thrall to Rasputin’s throbbing phallus.” At another point, he gives a great thumbnail sketch of Mikhail Kutuzov, bête noire of Napoleon:

In the 1860s, Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace presented [Kutuzov] as an oracular personification of the soul of the Russian nation; in 1941, Stalin promoted him as a genius; he was neither. But this protégé of Potemkin and Suvorov had vast experience, having served as governor-general and as ambassador to the sultan. He was wise, unflappable and sly, a nature symbolized by his eye wound: bullets had…passed fortuitously through his right temple and out through his right eye without affecting his judgment or shaking his sangfroid. If he could no longer stay awake during a war council nor mount a horse, this priapic antique concealed two peasant-girl mistresses disguised as Cossack boys among his staff…

And his depiction of the wanton destruction of the ex-tsar, his wife, and their children, is extremely potent:

Alexandra was crossing herself. She had always believed that she and Nicky would be, as she wrote long before, when they were newlyweds, "united, bound for life and when life is ended, we meet again in the other world to remain together for all eternity." As her hand was raised, Ermakov fired his Mauser point-blank at her head which shattered in brain and blood. Maria ran for the double doors at the back so Ermakov drawing a Nagant from his belt fired at her, hitting her in the thight, but the smoke and clouds of plaster were so dense that Yurovsky ordered a halt and opened the door to let the shooters, coughing and sputtering, rest as they listened to "moans, screams and low sobs" from within...

It is worth nothing that while Montefiore occasionally indulges glib conclusions and gleefully dwells on the sordid aspects of the story, he is an esteemed historian who has written extensively about Russia and the Soviet Union.

I did have some minor issues. First, while Montefiore does not ignore the overall context, I found it helpful going in to have some semblance of the order and meaning of events, since the perspective is tightly tethered to the Romanovs themselves. (Montefiore mitigates a lot of the complexity by providing a number of family trees, to keep everyone straight, while also starting each chapter with a cast of characters, so that you can recall everyone’s role).

Second, I was often befuddled by Montefiore’s use of “but” and “and,” by which I mean, he seems to interchange them. That is, “but” is generally used to introduce a clause that contrasts with that which has come before. Meanwhile, “and” is used to connect things that are supposed to be taken together. Long story short, Montefiore uses “but” to connect things that are supposed to be taken together, while also utilizing “and” to introduce contrasting clauses. Of course, Montefiore has a PhD from Cambridge, while I am the village drunk, so maybe I’m totally wrong. Still, there are a lot of confounding sentences here.

Overall, though, these are extremely minor quibbles in an overwhelmingly entertaining book. The history of the Romanovs is so dramatic that even the most pedantic, monotonal recitations still manage to provide at least a frisson of excitement.

And this is anything but pedantic or monotonal.

The Romanovs is, to the contrary, a fortunate intersection of material and author. Montefiore was born to give this account. He is learned and well-read, has literary style to spare, and is effortlessly confident in tracing the epic sweep of the Romanov dynasty, from the extraordinary heights of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, to the tragic depths of Nicholas II and his young family, herded into a basement room by drunken, ruthless criminals masquerading as revolutionaries.

Montefiore draws you into this story so effectively that you will have to remind yourself that you're actually learning. You have to remind yourself that all these things – the good, the bad, the inexplicable – actually happened.
Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,959 followers
May 8, 2022
“'Everything is turned upside down at once,’ he wrote to one of his best friends. 'Absolute power disrupts everything. It is impossible for me to enumerate all the madness' in a country that had become 'a plaything for the insane.’” (p. 266)
—Tsar Alexander I (reigned 1801 – 1825) on his father, Paul I, assassinated 1801

A dramatis personae at the start of each chapter helps track the actors and reemphasizes the idea of the intense melodrama here. This was not a group of subtle people. Even the occassional genius — Peter, Catherine — did not lead analyzed lives. The book is written with astonishing clarity and detail, yet it’s relatively trim. Twenty sovereigns (304 years) are profiled in 660 pages. Happily, the book lacks the main attribute of many survey texts, tedium. One thing helping readability, I think, is the many lively first-person voices derived from memoirs and letters. What did Martin Amis say of SSM — that he’s a Stakhanovite of the Russian State archives? Something like that. These are portraits of the power drunk. Each one has his or her signature cruelty. Moreover, each time a tsar died the succession looked more like a coup d’état than anything. You can imagine all the heads rolling.

The sex was incessant. Peter the Great, who probably wasn’t homosexual, when very drunk insisted on sleeping with his head on the stomach of one of his batmen. He also enjoyed orgies, passing women among himself and his buck naked subordinates.

The story of Catherine the Great and Potemkin is largely a story of sex, though there was also much armed conquest at the time, including major campaigns in Ukraine where Mariupol, Kherson and Odessa were founded. Catherine and Potemkin were ravenously libidinous. With Potemkin usually serving as both lover and pimp; that is, securing handsome young men for her from his armies. At the end of a given lover’s tenure, usually a few years, Catherine pensioned him off with thousands of rubles and serf-laden estates. Then she moved onto the next. But it must also be said that she loved; the young men weren’t simply diversions, though they were surely that too.

Here’s a note from p. 237: “Notorious for his idiosyncrasies, Suvorov, probably Russian‘s greatest ever commander, resembled a shabby, wirey, bristlingly alert scarecrow who liked to do calisthenic exercises stark naked in front of the army.”

The assassination plots, sometimes involving hundreds of people, are riveting to read about. The first was Alexi, not a tsar yet but a tsarevich, who was killed by Peter the Great, the father he despised. Also assassinated were Peter III, Paul I, Ivan VI, Alexander II and of course Nicholas II. The triple-cross that occurs during Paul I’s assassination plot will set your hair on fire. And then General Mikhail Kutuzov, the hero of the Napoleonic Wars —whom Tolstoy famously made say “I will make them eat horse meat” — steps right out of the pages War and Peace.

It is General Kutuzov who evacuates then burns Moscow. The astonished Napoleon writes, “To burn their own cities! A demon has got into them. What a people! (p. 307) Napoleon fumbles around in the Kremlin for weeks. Kutuzov marches his much reduced army group to the west. Kutuzov let’s Napoleon go: he is determined not to pursue him with such reduced forces. Emperor Alexander is of a different mind. With the two additional armies he pursues Napoleon across the breath of Europe. At the last minute Napoleon turns away from Paris, a feint, while the Russians and their Prussian allies enter. Alexander’s sister writes to him: “The imagination can hardly take in the idea of Russians in Paris!“ (p. 314)

And as always, there is the interminable fucking. I can’t begin to hint at the magnitudes of fornication taking place here across a continent. Alexander, after defeating Napoleon and occupying Paris, after touring London, during which he trysted with many British women, returns to Petersburg to find his mistress of fifteen years in love with another and is heartbroken. How could she? After all that I’ve done for her! Then we move onto the Congress of Vienna, aptly named.

“The Russians were said to be the worst-behaved visitors. On 9 November, Police Agent D reported that Alexander's courtiers, 'not content with treating the Hofburg like a pigsty, are behaving very badly and constantly bringing in harlots'. Vienna overflowed with such an embarrassing bounty of easily available sex that the streets seemed to swim with eager peasant-girls, a supply that was as inexhaustible as it was irresistible. One of Alexander's officers blamed the girls: 'It is impossible not to mention the unbelievable depravity of the female sex of the lower orders.’ The police agents reported that the maladies galantes —VD — were raging.” (p. 321)

Of course, it’s always the women who are to blame. Eve listened to the serpent etc . . . This is part and parcel of the tsars’ repellent belief in the divine right of kings; their mission unquestionably God’s will. Meanwhile they fuck and murder and subjugate populations.

“As Poland's rebellion was crushed [about 1830], a cholera outbreak sparked rioting on the Haymarket in Petersburg. Hastening there with just two adjutants, Nicholas faced down the mob, then ordered them to their knees. ‘I have to ask God's mercy for your sins,’ thundered God's own emperor. ‘You have offended Him deeply. You've forgotten your duty of obedience to me and I must answer to God for your behaviour! Remember you're not Poles, you're not Frenchmen, you're Russians. I order you to disperse immediately.' The rioters obeyed. No wonder Nicholas I believed he was the sacred personification of Russia. 'I am only here', he told his children preciously, 'to carry out her orders and her intentions.' Nicholas I was convinced that 'Our Russia was entrusted to us by God, once praying aloud at a parade: 'O God, I thank Thee for having made me so powerful.'” (p. 356)

Nicholas II was a rabid antisemite. It was under his regime that the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” document was concocted by the secret police, the Okhrana. The protocols implicated Jews in the outrage known as the Blood Libel, which said Jews were murdering Christian children in order to use their innocent blood in despicable rituals. Sadly the slander persists with some half-wits down to our day.

“On 20 March I9II, the body of a boy named Andrei Yushchinsky had been discovered in a cave outside Kiev. The Black Hundreds claimed that the body had been drained of blood by Jewish ritualists. While the boy had almost certainly been murdered on the orders of a vicious female gangster, the authorities, both to promote counter-revolutionary nationalism and to prevent anti-semitic disorders, arrested and framed an innocent Jewish brickmaker named Mendel Beilis. Even though the evidence was non-existent and the ritual itself was a myth, the justice minister, Ivan Shcheglovitor, briefed the tsar and appointed the top Kiev prosecutor to prosecute Beilis.¶ Now the prosecutor Grigory Chaplinsky reported to the emperor, ‘Your Majesty, I am happy to report that the true culprit in the murder of Yushchinsky has been found. The Yid Beilis.' Nicholas should have stopped the case. Instead he crossed himself and approved.” (pp. 551-552)

One feels sorrow for the children when they are killed by Bolsheviks, but it’s hard to feel sorry for the empress of the emperor, being such pigheaded religious ecstatics. I haven’t even touched on the story of Rasputin. That, reader, will set your hair on fire!

So just a few highlights. Montefiore’s a fine writer. One wonders how he handles such a bulky narrative in a mere 657 pages? I don’t know but it’s stunning. I have one quibble though, the description of Alexander III’s reign is riddled with lustful sex hungry missives to and from the emperor and his mistress. Bingleries, the emperor calls them. In one letter the mistress rhapsodizes about the how emperor’s “little fountain” gushed three times. Ick! Dozens of pages like this; most annoying.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,734 reviews1,469 followers
September 23, 2016
Having now completed the book has my view changed? No it hasn’t. Please see what I have written below. What is written here are either additional thoughts or that which I feel must be emphasized.

While the book does indeed provide facts of interest I feel the author all too often sensationalizes, emphasizes the bad over the good and has excessive details on the sexual behavior of not only of the Romanovs but also every darn person mentioned. I really don't need to know the size of Rasputin's penis. Seriously, given the amount of details pertaining to sex, a more appropriate title might be: The Sex Lives of the Romanovs and Their Compatriots 1613-1918. I am kind of joking but there is also a message to be taken note of. The mix of historical facts and the pronounced emphasis on sex is just plain weird. In any case a prospective reader should be warned. The sex is not graphic, but excessive and unnecessary.

Furthermore, I felt I was wading through an immense amount of irrelevant details, not just those related to sex. The writing is dense. Lots of names, dates and minutiae. Important historical details are there if you can wade through the muck to get to them.

Perhaps the book’s wide scope, covering all of the Romanovs, makes it difficult to achieve adequate depth. The Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean and Balkan Wars, the Russian Revolution and the First World War are all, albeit cursively, covered. Below I have recommended books by Robert K. Massie, but also George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I should be mentioned. I gave it 4 stars.

I did not find the personalities of the eighteen different Romanov czars to be sufficiently analyzed. Each one’s most important actions are spoken of but their personality traits remain diffuse. Each one’s physical appearance is described but their thoughts get much less attention. Negative attributes come to the fore over the positive. For me a balanced portrayal is lacking. I left the book with the feeling that the author immensely dislikes the Romanovs as a group and was unable to acknowledge their achievements. All of them are pretty much classified as anti-Semitics with little attention paid to those actions which counter this sweeping judgement.

I think the positive actions of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great and Alexander II’s abolition of serfdom warranted more attention. Not only were the serfs emancipated but also given land. The emancipation occurred in 1861. It is interesting to note that the Civil War in the States began this year. Blacks were not given land.

By the end of the audiobook I was sick and tired of having to rewind to catch the Russian names. The narration should have been slower and names more distinctly pronounced.

This is my second non-fiction book by the author. I gave Jerusalem: The Biography also two stars.
My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
I am providing my review because I believe by comparing the two one sees similarities. I have decided on the basis of these two books that most probably even the author’s fiction will not fit my tastes though the topic might attract me. It is interesting to note that in both of these books the author goes off on a tangent about his own family’s roots and how his ancestors knew famed personages. This doesn’t belong in either book!

Please read below. I have tried to avoid repetition.


Halfway through:
I have gotten thorough the Romanov Czars up to Nicolas I.

I am not (for the most) critical of the factual content but rather its focus. However, please see below the paragraph about Alexander von Benckendorff! This author loves to stun, loves to point out violence. Beheadings, impalements, dismembering of bodies, torture, tongues ripped out, rapes, deviant sexual behavior and physical abuse abound. He doesn't merely document, he dramatizes. One example is that written about the Congress of Vienna. Less is said about its political consequences than the partying and sexual liaisons of the delegates.

You get a whiff of the author's way of writing from the fact that rather than the book having chapters the different sections are called scenes and acts.

This author prefers to detail the bad rather than the good. One example: very little is said about the magnificent buildings erected by the Romanovs. Sure, they are mentioned, but few details are given. Art collections, literary works are scarcely mentioned. A quote is taken from Pushkin, but what does the author choose to quote? A line about the the size of General Aleksey Arakcheyev's penis. Sigh.

The author enjoys throwing out statements that shock or at least surprise. Some sentences leave you wondering what exactly is being implied; I prefer clarity. I was surprised by the statement that Alexander von Benckendorf, head of the Secret Police under Nicolas I, "didn't know his own name and had to consult his business card". The author leaves no comment on the validity of this statement. Who said this? What are the sources? Which facts are pure gossip and which true? If this is to be considered a serious work on the Romanovs why is this statement presented in such a fashion?

Reading this is not a waste of time. I am learning, but I don’t like the presentation, the author’s dramatization and penchant for salacious details.

I MUCH prefer the writing of Robert K. Massie. I have read and highly recommend the author's books Nicholas and Alexandra and Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. I would grab Peter the Great: His Life and World if I could.

I should say something positive. I liked how the author wrote about the Napoleonic Wars.

I am furthermore disappointed that family tree information provided in the written version is not made accessible in the audiobook format via an accompanying PDF file. Not a big problem though, since one can easily find the information on the web. The audiobook is narrated by Simon Russell Beale. I don't love it, but there is nothing actually wrong. For the most part the lines are clearly pronounced and presented at a good speed. He seems to be fluent in Russian, so he whips off the names quickly. This makes it hard for me to jot them down. It can be hard to guess the correct spelling, but I have come close enough to be able to find them on the web.

I continue.

Profile Image for Dem.
1,186 reviews1,098 followers
June 25, 2016
Simon Sebag Montefiore's blockbuster history of the Romanov dynasty was a great choice for me to read prior to my much anticipated trip to St. Petersburg next month. I had been looking for a book on the Romanov dynasty and this was exactly what I was looking for. It's a unique and compelling read and quite a shocking insight into all twenty of the Romanov tsars and tsarinas.

Some books especially non fiction need to be read in good old fashioned paperback in order to get the best out of them and the Romanoves is a prime example.
I originally purchased this on Audio but very quickly realized this was a mistake and switched to the hardback edition. I was so glad I did as each chapter is prefaced with a cast list and I found this extremely helpful as there is a vast amount of characters in each chapter and I found myself consulting the Cast List on numerous occasions to remind myself of who was who and I think this is reflected in the length of time it took me to complete this book. I also enjoyed the inclusion of the Family tree, maps and illustrations which really added to the enjoyment of the book and are so important additions for the reader.

From the first paragraph of the Introduction I was hooked...........

" 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" The Romanovs were actually the most spectacularly successful empire builders since the Mongols" ,

This is an epic history of The House of Romanov which was the second dynasty, after the Rurik dynasty, to rule over Russia, and ruled from 1613 until the abdication of Czar Nicholas II on March 15, 1917, as a result of the February Revolution. its packed full of facts and intrigue and details that any reader who enjoys reading about the Romanov family from its begining until its shocking massacare of the entile family in 1918 may well find this a very interesting read. Its also a story of power, love, lust sex and violence and greed and I was at times quite shocked by the debauchery and cruelty of the time although I had come accross it in other accounts of the Romanov family its seems more highlighted in this account and may not be for the feint hearted.

A very comprehensive and detailed book and therefore a slow but extremely satisfying read for me. Its perfectly paced and meticulously researched and while it could have been a slog with such a vast amount of information and details to pack in, the author manages to bring Russian Histroy and the house of Romanov to life in a most unique and modern way and I found myself engrossed throughout.

Delighted I had the opportunity to read this before my visit to St. Petersburg and looking forward to visiting a number of places mentioned in the book.

Profile Image for Brett C(urrently overseas again).
784 reviews165 followers
May 16, 2021
This was an excellent account of the Romanov dynasty covering just over 300 years of history. I've read "Peter the Great" and "Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert K. Massie (both great by the way) but this one goes further in-depth. I felt this was a well-researched and well-written filled with tragedy and brutality but rich in human nature and intrigue.

First there's a brief history of the Rus and Rurikid lineage and Vladimir converting to Orthodoxy in 988. The Romanov's history starts with the first, Michael, followed by Ivan the Terrible who was coronated in 1547. After that things pick up quickly. All major players, places, and details are explored in this book. There's Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Paul's, Alexei's, Alexander's, Fyodor's, Nicholas', and lots of important figures. Sadly enough the story ends with the senseless, cold-blooded execution of the Romanov family by the Communist/Soviet prototype take over, pgs. 645-49.

About the layout of the book: the content structuring is almost written as if it were a play. There are three acts (Rise, Apogee, and Decline). Each chapter in the three segments is introduced by The Cast. This lists the main people, Courtiers, and everyone else relevant to what you're about to read. The author includes helpful family trees, maps, and three clusters of photographs.

"He [Peter the Great] dictated everything, soon grousing that the senators were incapable of decision-making. This is the complaint of autocrats, from Peter to Stalin and Putin, who concentrate fearsome power in one man and then reprimand their assistants for not thinking for themselves." pg. 111

For me personally, the topic of the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, and the military action in Chechnya was my favorite in this book. The violence and struggle in modern day Chechnya has been ongoing since the 1780s and Russia's imperial expansion.

I enjoyed reading this one a lot and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Russian history. Thanks!
Profile Image for Emma.
974 reviews974 followers
September 5, 2016
Review to follow.

But it's basically just going to say it's excellent so if you don't need any more info than that, you're good to go.
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,849 reviews360 followers
June 3, 2018
Heavy reading but well worth it. Unbelievably well researched none of the myth of this great house
Family trees and fantastic photos
Each chapter begins with a "cast of characters" which primes the reader for whom to expect to read about keeps the timeline straight as well as who is related
Explores beginning links to other royal families, the construction of palaces, formation of armies.
Torture, espionage, murder, intrigue, war, sex
I thought at first to write quick synopses of each section, but this review would have been entirely too long. Each Tsar's reign was so eventful, so much violence and drama.
I'm buying this book

2017 Lenten nonfiction Buddy Reading Challenge book #31

1/14/18 Audio reread wanted to know how everything is correctly pronounced so bought the audible

AUDIO READ #5 of 2018
Profile Image for Steven Fisher.
49 reviews33 followers
March 26, 2022
Putin asked his courtiers who where Russia's "greatest traitors". Before they could answer, he replied "The greatest criminals in our history were those weaklings who threw power on the floor- Nicholas ll and Mikhail Gorbachev- who allowed power to be picked up by hysterics and madman".Putin promised, "I would never abdicate". The Romanovs are gone but the predicament of Russian autocracy live on.
Profile Image for Emily.
296 reviews1,534 followers
November 27, 2017
I'M DONE!!! This is a behemoth of a book... But it's so worth it!

The Romanovs is absolutely wonderful historical nonfiction. Montefiore clearly knows his stuff, and it's a joy to read. I will say, if you don't read a ton of nonfiction (and more specifically, historical nonficiton), this may be a bit difficult. It's a WHOLE LOT of exposition. If you're used to that, or think that's no problem, then DEFINITELY pick this up! But it's something to keep in mind. If you don't think huge, unbroken paragraphs are your thing, I'd recommend checking this out on audiobook. I often find that exposition works better when you're listening rather than reading.

I do think that the structure of this books REALLY helps with it's size, both literal and figuratively. This book is well over 600 pages of text (plus an extensive bibliography), and it covers about 300 years. Montefiore breaks the book up into several different parts, and the chapters in each part are described as "scenes." The beginning of each scene has a cast--all of the important figures he'll be discussing--and I found that wildly helpful. There are lots of similar, if not identical, names, and being able to flip back to the cast list really helped with keeping track of who's who.

Montefiore's tone throughout the novel was great--he's informative, but happily pokes fun at the (quite frequent) ridiculousness of the Romanov family. Many of the footnotes, while not essential to the story, are full of wonderful little tibits.

I definitely recommend picking this up!
Profile Image for Max.
343 reviews308 followers
April 22, 2020
Montefiore covers the 304 years of the Romanov line of tsars from 1613 to 1917. His presentation gives us a different perspective than that provided by individual biographies. We are able to judge the individual tsars and empresses in the context of the traditions they inherited and the flow of history. We see how each dealt with similar circumstances. We learn how the differing personalities, capabilities and temperament of each autocrat changed history. From the pinnacle of the bold ruthless Peter the Great to the nadir of the abysmally weak Nicholas II.

In 1613 a seventeen year old boy, Michael, became the first Romanov tsar. Michael’s main qualification for being selected by the boyars and nobles was that he was an “immaculate pawn”, meaning he brought no powerful relationships with him. Michael and his mother did not want this extremely dangerous position. Murders and violence had been the fate of many predecessors and would be for many successors. Russia was steeped in Orthodox traditions. Men wore long beards and kaftans with sleeves hanging to the ground. Royal woman wore veils and were kept hidden abiding by strict rules. The tsar was enveloped in ceremony which could take the entire day. When Michael had to choose a bride it was done as it had been in Byzantium with a bride show. Young woman of the realm were invited to be viewed and selected by the tsar. But politics determined everything. Michael chose a bride only for her to be poisoned, made sick and sent away as too unhealthy. Young women were used as pawns by powerful families to secure power and profit. After two more bride shows Michael chose the correct young woman, his mother’s favorite. Such was royal life. Michael died in 1645 and his son Alexei became tsar.

Perhaps Alexei’s most notable impact was in 1648 when he approved new laws that gave nobles sole authority over the peasants on their land. They could not leave without permission and could be hunted if they escaped. They were subject to the justice imposed by the noble. Thus they were now serfs and for practical purposes enslaved. Owning serfs became the very definition of nobility. In return Alexei secured his autocracy and the right to mobilize everyone for war. He also established 63 crimes punishable by death, some by being buried alive, some others by burning. Lesser criminals received the knout, a kind of cat-o’-nine tails that could kill in only ten lashes. Alexei died in 1676. His son Peter would bring dramatic change and be known as Peter the Great

As a young boy Peter saw people he knew violently killed in the constant carnage surrounding the jockeying for power, perhaps contributing to his epileptic fits. But he would grow tall, strong and striking. Not a book learner, as a child he played war games with his toys. He built miniature armies and practiced them. And as soon as he was able he did the same with real people. He used these play armies and friends he had made in the German community in Moscow to take power from his older half-sister, Sophia. Sophia had tried to have Peter killed, but Peter won putting Sophia in a monastery, torturing and exiling her accomplices.

Peter became a warlord, assigning all ceremonial duties to others. He was the first tsar to leave Russia, traveling around Europe and visiting Parliament in England. He wanted the technology and the weapons he saw. He modernized the Russian Army. He shaved off his beard, a symbol of Orthodox piety, and had others do likewise. His social life was beyond wild. He established the All Mad All Jesting All Drunken Synod. This group of his friends engaged in mock rituals with wide open sex and heavy drinking. His collection of dwarfs and freaks provided entertainment. Peter enjoyed his girlfriends and mistresses. He tired of his wife (selected by his mother), took their son, put her in a monastery and had her uncle tortured to death. Peter left no doubt about who was in charge. When people threatened him, he took decisive action. Beheading, torture and gruesome deaths were a frequent remedy and could involve hundreds at a time.

Russia, while large, was smaller than today and essentially landlocked. In 1700 Peter attacked Sweden which controlled the areas around the Baltic taking the land on which he would build St. Petersburg. He also met a Livonian peasant girl, formidable in her own way, who would become the love of Peter’s life and Empress Catherine I after his death. Peter began marrying off Romanovs to European royalty to integrate Russia into European society. In 1716 Peter’s son Alexei ran off to the Austrian court with the stupid idea that he could raise an army to overthrow Peter. Peter had him captured then tortured Alexei to death along with anyone who had any inkling of Alexei’s plans. Peter doubled the number of offenses punishable by death and enhanced the punishments to include breaking on the wheel and quartering. For lesser offenses clipping of nostrils and pulling out of tongues was commonly applied. Peter often chose his mistresses from Catherine’s retinue who had to keep up with Catherine’s late night drinking. One of Catherine’s most beautiful ladies, Mary Hamilton, stole some of Catherine’s jewelry and under torture confessed to abortions. Peter had her beheaded despite the protests of Catherine. At the beheading, Peter kissed the dismembered head, lectured the crowd, then threw it to the ground. He had it embalmed and placed in his cabinet of curiosities. In 1721 Peter became the first emperor in addition to tsar. All subsequent tsars would also be emperors.

Peter died in 1725. In 1745 Peter’s grandson who had been raised in Germany married a German princess the future Catherine the Great. Catherine and the future Peter III had a contentious marriage and no one is sure if Peter III was the father of her child Paul. Catherine wrote in private that he was her lover’s son. If so that is when the Romanov line ended. Peter III became tsar in 1761. Catherine and he each tried to have the other arrested. Catherine beat him to the punch. Peter was taken prisoner and beaten and strangled, although the official cause of death was “hemorrhoidal colic”. Catherine the Great learned the ropes quickly. She would pick up where Peter the Great left off. Montefiore refers to Catherine’s abundant sexual liaisons as serial monogamy. A few such as Grigory Orlov, her first lover as empress, would always remain important to her. Grigory Potemkin was the love of her life despite both moving on to numerous others. She would always rely on him as an astute political partner. They shared well matched intellectual interests beyond the physical. He would stand out as a cavalry leader, a general, a geopolitical strategist. His military and diplomatic skills were essential to expanding Russian territory around the Black Sea completing Peter the Great’s vision.

Catherine the Great died in 1796 and despite her hopes, her son Paul became tsar. He lasted five years before being beaten to death like his father Peter III. Just like his father he had tried to impose Prussian military culture on Russia. It didn’t go over well. His son became Tsar Alexander I as Catherine had wished. Like her he felt the need for reform but always deferred to autocracy. His biggest accomplishment was defeating Napoleon. When Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812, Alexander had to back either the general who wanted to meet Napoleon head on or the one who wanted to continually retreat, harass and draw Napoleon deeper into Russia. He chose the latter, despite much advice to the contrary, saving Russia and humiliating Napoleon. Emboldened he sent Russian troops along with his allies all the way to Paris. 1815 was the height of Russian power which steadily declined under the succeeding tsars.

With Alexander’s death in 1825, his brother became Tsar Nicholas I. He was immediately faced with the Decembrist revolt, which he put down, but left him in paranoia. Nicholas took tight control surveilling and arresting any suspected dissidents. In 1849 he had Dostoevsky placed before a firing squad reprieving him at the very last second. He was sent to Siberia instead, but Dostoevsky was shaken to the core. Nicholas entrapped Pushkin placing him in his court to control the popular poet. Afraid of Russian designs on the failing Ottoman Empire, the French and British invaded Crimea in 1854. Nicholas had failed to modernize Russia and its army. His troops were fighting with old flintlock muskets far inferior to the British and French rifles. When Nicholas died in 1855, Russia had only two rail lines.

Alexander II, Nicholas’s son, took over amidst the debacle in Crimea. He was forced to accept a harsh settlement. Alexander had liberal leanings. He eased censorship and rules for universities and courts. He provided for local assemblies and reduced restrictions on Jews. Most significantly he freed the serfs in 1861. They could no longer be bought and sold. They could marry who they wanted and they could own land. Still they remained poor. Now Alexander couldn’t control the serfs through the nobles, only through his army. Two years later Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Alexander was an admirer of Lincoln and very upset when he was assassinated. The 1860’s brought the expansion of newspapers, the telegraph, railroads and radical new ideas. This was the decade Tolstoy wrote War and Peace and Dostoevsky Crime and Punishment. Alexander reversed his liberal course in 1863 to put down a Polish uprising. He deployed 300,000 Russian troops, executed hundreds, and deported 18,000 to Siberia. The love of Alexander’s life was not his first wife, the empress, but his mistress, Katya, with whom he had many children. He married her after the empress died to the chagrin of all around him. Montefiore quotes from their love letters which describes their extremely active sex life. Vying with affairs of state, Alexander’s primary preoccupation was having sex with Katya.

In 1881 Alexander II was assassinated. His son, Alexander III, removed the liberal advisors of his father, ditched the reforms, and doubled down on control and repression. Anti-Semitic, he condoned violent pogroms. Many thousands of Jews left for America during Alexander’s reign. This was part of a broader effort to repress minorities and tie the country to him through nationalism. He set up the Okhrana, a secret police that would infiltrate dissident organizations. Alexander realized Russia was far behind the European powers. Russia began selling grain to help industrialize, leading to famine and starvation in 1891. But a boom followed and over a million peasants moved to man the new industries. By 1900 Russia doubled its rail lines including the Trans-Siberian Railway, developed significant oil deposits, built factories and a thriving textile industry.

In 1894 Alexander III died. Nicholas II became tsar. Nicholas had a soft reserved childlike quality. He didn’t want to be tsar. Seeing that Nicholas exerted no authority at all when his father became very ill, his fiancée, the future empress Alexandra, started telling him how to behave. She told him “make the doctors come to you” “Be firm.” Both Nicholas and Alexandra were easily overwhelmed by details and the intricacies that came with their positions. Neither trusted sophisticated people. Their simplicity of thought made them perfect targets for Rasputin. She gave birth to four daughters and one hemophiliac son, Alexei, who would dominate her life. By that time she was already suffering from numerous pains and taking opium, cocaine, morphine, and a barbiturate. She could have ten hysterical fits a day. Nicholas, always faithful, was happy with anything that would calm her, including Rasputin. Rasputin, a hierophant, was also “sexually psychopathic” engaging in orgies with bevies of prostitutes where he would brag about his control over Alexandra “the Old Lady…I can make her do anything.” The key for Rasputin was that he seemed to be able to will Alexei’s bleeding to stop.

Nicholas started a disastrous war with Japan in 1904 that greatly weakened his standing at home and abroad. At home he was beset by constant unrest from revolutionary groups carrying out assassinations, bombings and ordinary crime to raise money. The Okhrana grew infiltrating and closely surveilling revolutionaries. In January 1905, 160,000 workers went on strike in Petersburg and marched on the Winter Palace to deliver a petition for better conditions. To stop them, soldiers killed over one thousand and thousands more were wounded. Known as Bloody Sunday, this incident hardened both sides. That year would see riots, strikes, and assassinations greatly increase across Russia. Some areas were completely controlled by dissidents. Nicholas conducted a punitive counter revolution with officially 15,000 killed, 45,000 deported and 70,000 arrested. The actual count was far higher. Separately pogroms killed thousands of Jews. While not initiated by Nicholas, he praised those who conducted them.

WWI broke out in August 1914. Nicholas, Alexandra and Rasputin did not want war, but a cascade of events drew them in. After the ill led and ill equipped Russian army suffered setback after setback, Nicholas II took command in the field. This fateful decision meant he no longer could run the government. Alexandra took over. As one minister noted she “had a will of iron linked to not much brain and no knowledge.” On top of which she still consumed barbiturates, cocaine, morphine and other opiates. She replaced all the ministers and let Rasputin select new ones. She quickly replaced again those she didn’t like with new sycophants. The government was in utter chaos and booklets spread around Russia claiming Alexandra had sexual affairs with Rasputin. Nicholas always gave in to his wife even though frustrated by her decisions. He retreated into a childlike state. Sensing disaster, two Romanovs killed Rasputin. It changed little. Rasputin, an astute manipulator, had largely been confirming what Nicholas and more importantly Alexandra already believed.

The country was experiencing inflation and food shortages as the public lost its last remnant of faith in the tsar. In February 1917, with food lines stretching blocks, the people had enough. Riots ensued, police were shot, stores looted, buildings taken over. Petersburg was under revolutionary control. Nicholas abdicated to Grand Duke Michael who became the last Romanov tsar. He abdicated the next day and 304 years of Romanov reign ended. In August, at the direction of prime minster Kerensky who was trying to protect them from the Bolsheviks, the family was moved to a town in Siberia near Rasputin’s former home, which they passed on the way. In October 1917 the Bolsheviks seized power. In April the family was moved to Ekaterinburg where they were murdered. Montefiore’s account is riveting.
Profile Image for happy.
303 reviews94 followers
July 19, 2017
Having read Mr. Sebag Montefiore’s previous book Jerusalem: The Biography, I was looking forward to reading this one. Unfortunately I found this mildly disappointing. While it is well researched and is organized in a linear manner, I found the narrative a bit disjointed. The other problem I had was the author’s emphasis on the various Romanov’s sexual lives.

In this narrative the author takes each Romanov ruler in turn from Michael I through to Michael II (technically the last Tsar). Especially in the early chapters, Mr. Montefiore looks as the brutality that was rampant in Russia. This was not just executions, but the manner people were executed. This included impaling losers in political contests through the rectum on spikes in the court yard of the Kremlin, or just tossing them over the wall and letting the troops tear them apart.

In telling story he looks at each Tsar/Tsarina, I found a lot of interesting facts that I didn’t know. For instance, when Michael I was chosen as the first Romanov Tsar – he didn’t want anything to do with it. He hid in a closet in hopes the messengers wouldn’t find him and it took his mother to convince him that it was his duty to accept the crown.

As the author tells the story of each of the Tsar, in addition to their sex lives, he also looks at how they governed and how the power of the throne changed over time. This includes Peter the Great’s attempts to force Russia into the 17th century as he fought his wars with Sweden, Catherine the Greats attempts to modernize while conducting wars with the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century and the push back she received from her aristocracy, Alexander I’s growth as Tsar in facing Napoleon and finally the utter failure of Nicholas II as an autocrat and his refusal to admit his limits, resulting Russia’s failure in World War I and his abdication.

Roughly the last half of the book is about the 19th and 20th century Tsars. As he looks these Romanovs again he looks at the attempts, however halting that they made to modernize Russia and the pushback they received from both the aristocracy and surprisingly the peasants. One fact I found amazing was that Nicholas II's grand father, Alexander II who finally freed the serfs, survived 6 assassination attempts before finally succumbing to the 7th. In telling the story of the 19th century Tsars, the author also does a very commendable job of describing the antisemitism that was rampant in both the aristocracy and the general populous. He does a excellent job of explaining how the Jewish population was used as the scapegoat for what ever problems was occuring in society at the time.

Probably the most in depth look at any of the Romanovs is the treatment of Nicholas and Alexandra. In the section, the author tells the story of their romance, Alexandra’s influence over her husband and his failures as autocratic Tsar. For example, whenever he thought about weakening the power of the Tsar and allow more democracy, she would object strenuously and usually prevail! The picture the author draws of Nicholas is of a man who was personally a kind and gentle and knows he really isn’t cut out to be Tsar, but feels it is his duty to accept the job. His personal gentleness did not carry over to his official duties and he allowed several brutal suppressions of various rebellions.

In additions to the sexual hijinks of the various Tsars and other members of the Aristocracy, The author looks at the drug use of the Royal family, especially Alexandra. According to the author she was a drug addict. She was being prescribing large amounts of both cocaine and various opioids. The author does a really good job of describing the influence Rasputin had on both Alexandra in particular and the court in general. One fact I didn’t know was that Nicholas II technically was not the last Tsar. When he abdicated the crown passed to his brother Michael. He was Tsar only as long as it took to sign his abdication papers, less than a day.

The final section of the book is a telling of what happened to the Romanov family after they abdicated the throne. Mr. Sebag Montefiore does a good job in describing the attempts Lenin made to keep his finger prints off of the executions and the reasons he had of doing so. However, once the decision was made to execute Nicholas and his family, no Romanov was safe. The Bolsheviks executed every member of the family they could get their hands on. Some of the executions were moderately humane, ie Micheal II, but others were executed with shocking brutality including Nicholas, his immediate family and the few retainers that had been allowed to stay with them. For example, one group including the Tsarina's sister Ella, a nun, were thrown into a flooded mineshaft and left to drown. When the executioners could still hear the victims talking, they threw grenades down the shaft, when they still heard noises, they threw more grenades and finally built a fire over the shaft until they could hear no more sound.

All in all this is an extremely well researched book, but the narrative is a bit uneven. It is lavishly illustrated, including a nude sketch that Alexander II made of his favorite mistress and later his wife, that is not bad. It really picks up in the last half. 'Midst all the sexual content that is not really appealing to me, there is some really good history. I would give this 4 stars for research, but only 3 for the writing. If GR allowed, I would rate this 3.25 stars, so I rounded down.
Profile Image for Henk.
848 reviews
January 16, 2021
The focus on the juicy stories surrounding the many idiosyncratic Romanovs obscures a deeper understanding of the dynasty and Russia in its day and age
During the reign of the Romanovs Russia expanded 142 km per day

In general I feel that the Revolutions podcast about the Russian revolution is much more in depth/helicopter view than this book:

That being said, The Romanovs: 1613-1918 is a gripping read with many characters being bigger than life. Sex is an interesting focus area of author Simon Sebag Montefiore in this respect. I feel I have read the nickname for the intimate parts of the lover of tzar Alexander more times in this book then for instance Metternich or even Napoleon (btw: the nickname was coquille, enjoy!).

Humble yet tumultuous origins
In all seriousness, 6 of the 12 last emperors were killed during their reign, assasination being one of the few possible voices of opposition within an autocracy.
The dynasty's beginning was humble enough, which the author neatly ties to the end of the last Romanov heir. After their power is established and backed by the Orthodox Church we have accounts of the brideshows for the tzar. These events sounds more like idols than anything else, with the sovereign making a choice from a shortlist of 5 to 6 girls of high birth, from an initial 500 possible virgins. Many of these wives their families end up being the most entrenched and favourited families of the empire.

The early part of the book has a lot of uprisings, poisonings, all powerful religious figures, beheadings, and wars with Poland and Sweden before even arriving at second Romanov Tzar Alexei.
There are even so many people dying before Peter the Great came to power, I can imagine why the red square is called that way with all the pikes through rectums, dismemberment and people literally being beaten to a pulp.
Here I would have liked more depth on who Sofia was, being co-tsarina to Peter and Ivan?

Peter the Great: Pursuit of progress through terror
Then we have Peter the Great torturing the uncle of his wife to death and ruling the country through a sort of drunken carnival to escape the orthodox rituals and drive home his absolute power over his subjects, with 14 torture chambers were working day and night except for Sundays in response to rebellions. And the term Great starts to be seen in a whole different context (besides him being almost 2 meters tall), even though he has the first and only foreign sabbatical of an autocratic head of state on his name.

There are gems of stories hidden in the broader narrative of the rise of Peter, like for instance Hannibal the black slaveboy turned general, and the grandfather of Pushkin.
Or 72 dwarves being married as amusement for the opening of St Petersburg.
Meanwhile the executions just continue, with people being executed the most Russian way possible by being soaked in wodka and put alight, and we see a coach being dragged by bears.

Sebag narrates how Peter tortures and end up killing his own son after he fled to Vienna.
Again here I’d like to now more about Catherine, the mistress and lover of Peter the Great, her background and rise to power.

Women rulers
Empress Anna being succeeded by regentes Anna of Brunswick, who was involved in a mutual bisexual ménage a trois with a man and a woman and again is disposed of while one of the other heirs both himself and his prospective wife turning out to be homosexual.
These are the kind of stories that make you feel that the life of Tzar or Tsarina is just fun and games but you get scant view on the broader developments in the empire itself and their neighbours.
But then we have a story on how his son Peter the Second wants to mary his aunt Elisavetta.

It is clear that the consolidation of power is enormous: someone owning more than 300.000 serfs under Catherine (daughter of Peter the Great). Or Elisavetta having 15.000 dresses at her death, and her losing 4.000 dresses in a fire in a palace.
Despite all this decadence death by illnesses (and alcoholism) is just all the rage.

There is no orderly transfer or power between tzars, everytime the sovereign changes a whole lot of people are executed, tortured (tongues being ripped out or all bones broken) or send to Siberia in solitary confinement without medical care.
Also interpersonal relations don't alway work out the way imagined.
Peter and Catherine the Great consuming their marriage only after 5 years or Peter ordering a rat to death and hanging that in her sleeping room for instance.

Catherine the Great does really seem like a badass, for instance saying: One must do things in such a way that people think they themselves have wanted to have it done that way
Or her calling her predecessor rococo palace whipped cream.
She definitely has the best quotes, like: Your children belong to you, me and the state (about her grandchild, taking him from Paul).
Still her state(wo)manship is eclipsed in this book by her serial affairs, with Potemkin and the people rising to power due to these sexual favours. Potemkin and Catherine even go as far as calling their respective lovers children (one being 21, while she was 51, so not unjustified, just a bit creepy if one sleeps with that person).
And we have Potemkin in a relationship with three of his nieces.

After the greats; the expansion into Asia
Yet a fortress is only as safe as the men who guard it
It’s all very juicy but all the affairs and internal fighting kind of obscure for me a clear picture on how the Romanovs where so successful. They even harboured (delirious) plans to invade British India. but off course this is not really put into focus, no because: Alexander his wife harbouring a lesbian crush with one of her baronesses.

Still the relation between Alexander and Napoleon is very interesting and dramatic in twist and turns, with Moscow burning and Paris occupied in the eb and flood of fortunes of Russia. I can finally see why War and Peace would choose to focus on this period.
Alexander his sons Nicolas and Konstatin fighting to not be emperor after his death is also interesting, the burden of ruling seems to become much larger after the excess under Peter and Catherine.
Also interesting is how Poesjkin (grandson of Hannibal mentioned above) his wife ends up being courted by the Tzar and he dying in a duel with a Frenchman.

A topic much to lightly touched upon (I know I am repeating myself but really, just listen to the Revolutions podcast to get a more in depth understanding of the significance of this) is Alexander liberating 22 million serfs while Lincoln liberated 6 million slave a few years later. Astonishing how the appreciation of both men is so different, even though Lincoln his death was being lamented in the Kazan cathedral.
But again here the book choses to focus on the lover of emperor Alexander II, with him being in his mid 40’s and she 18, and him having first met her at 11.
This section was especially cringeworthy, with repeated quoting from loveletters from Alexander II especially if nicknames like coquille and vava start to get involved for bodyparts.
And still I have no idea how did the terror against Alexander II and Alexander III end?

20th century mayhem
Nicolas being a micromanager leading to a disastrous Russo Japanese war and a first defeat of a Western power by an Asian navy. And then we have Rasputin slithering into the Imperial family due to concerns over their hemophiliac heir Alexei, definitely setting in a decline in the empire.
Rasputin is a very juicy topic, probably being the most covered non-Tzar in the book Him being gripped by the penis by a bishop to force him a confession on his misconduct is only one of the events one can not imagine to be actually true, but Sebag Montefiore also pulls out statistics like 1/15 of wives in St Petersburg being prostitutes.

Another topic is the rabid antisemitism of the tzar and the regime in general.
Still the economy did boom between 1900 and 1914, doubling the revenue of the state and funding the armament programme that drove Germany and Austria further together.

We have Alex, wife to Nicholas II, being totally under the influence of Rasputin and appointing 5 prime ministers in the First World War. About this the parlement said: is it stupidity or treason.
Still the country did quite okay in the war apparently, with only deep losses and concessions following when the Communists come to power.
The end is quite grim, despite (or especially because) the liquidation of the family ended up being quite a botched job.

An interesting read, at times rather soapy, about a fascinating dynasty that shaped a lot of the course of Europe in its time.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,014 reviews364 followers
September 19, 2021
The Hell Gardeners


Were some of Romanov's favorite hobbies!

Hobbies?!... Did I say hobbies?!...

Maybe hell seeds will provide a better match for those deviant diversions?!

If you're interested in a testimony of their iniquity, just take a look at the list of atrocities commited by Peter the Great — Great in bestiality, for sure!...🤬
There, you'll meet a beheaded brother, a murdered mistress, a son tortured till death, etc, etc,...

Romanov have been hell farmers — they lived and died in hell!

Nobody escapes the Law of Karma!... 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
Profile Image for Micah Cummins.
201 reviews186 followers
September 23, 2022
An engaging, thoroughly enjoyable book providing the reader with a well rounded look into the Romanov dynasty. Given the great scope of the subject, the book is not able to cover every aspect of the dynasty, but rather, focuses on the big picture, and presents a very understandable narrative that allows the reader to become fully immersed in the story. I would highly recommend this to anyone looking for an introduction to the history of the Romanovs.
Profile Image for Ray.
575 reviews114 followers
September 26, 2017
The Romanovs ruled Russia for 300 years. This book catalogues the rise and fall of the dynasty, atop a multi ethnic empire spanning one sixth of the globe.

I liked the authors attention to detail and his erudite and gossipy style. I particularly liked the evocative opening chapter which bookends the teenagers Michael, first czar of Russia, and Alexei, doomed tzaraevitch and son of the hapless Nicholas II - one hunted by Polish death squads, the other destined to be murdered by Bolsheviks.

In between we have a parade of the mad and the bloodthirsty, the cruel and the murderous, with dramatic succession struggles and an empire that somehow survives and thrives. Palace intruige is a constant, as a succession of strongmen (and women - these mainly princesses imported from minor principalities in Germany) accede to the throne. We even have a Russian version of the man in the iron mask.

In the end the dynasty fails, as the incompetent Nicholas II proves unable to change even as the world changes around him.

Today, although the Romanovs are gone, Russia still needs a Czar. Stalin was perhaps the epitome of an autocrat, and Putin now holds the throne in an iron grasp. The author draws interesting parallels between the political system under the Romanovs and modern day rulers - a supreme leader surrounded by and supported by a kleptocratic elite - and he points out the inherent instability of a country where the rule of law is subject to the whim of one person.

Worth a read.
Profile Image for Carlos.
588 reviews289 followers
July 27, 2016
This is one of those books some people feel that they must rate 5 out of 5 star because of all the time they invested on it, but I do feel without any imposition that this book clearly does deserve the rating of 5 stars, because of its magnitude and its amazing detail, it is an epic research work into the life of the Romanov dynasty that rules over Russia for over 300 years. If you are interested in ancient or modern Russian history this is the book for you because the only way to understand Russia now is to go back into its past and learn. I highly recommend it!.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews673 followers
December 22, 2018
List of Illustrations
Map: The Expansion of Russia, 1613-1917
Family Tree: The House of Romanov
Acknowledgements and Sources

--The Romanovs


(The full and extremely extensive references for this book, which were included in the hardback edition, are available on the author's website at: http://www.simonsebagmontefiore.com. To make the paperback a manageable and readable size, the author and publishers have decided not to include them in the paperback. We hope the readers will agree that, for most, the balance of convenience is best served by this policy.)
Profile Image for Olethros.
2,617 reviews428 followers
February 18, 2022
-Nos habla de la familia y del papel de Rusia en el devenir de la historia desde perspectivas no occidentales.-

Género. Historia.

Lo que nos cuenta. El libro Los Románov: 1613-1918 (publicación original: The Romanovs: 1613-1918, 2016) es un acercamiento a los monarcas de la familia Románov que gobernaron Rusia durante algo más de tres siglos, desde el ascenso del linaje en tiempos de Iván el Terrible hasta su caída en tiempos de la revolución rusa.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Bibliophile.
781 reviews73 followers
June 7, 2016
The Romanovs make the Lannisters look like the Bennett sisters. Simon Sebag Montefiore does his best to avoid speculation and sensationalism, but not even his sober outlook and academic restraint can quench the glorious madness that was the Romanov rule. THE MAYHEM. People are not only shot or beheaded, as one would expect, but imaginatively tortured, broken on the wheel, impaled in the bottom, cut into sections, stomped to pulp, doused in vodka and set on fire. Cut into sections. That requires dedication. On a good day you only get your tongue ripped out. Then there are the courtly intrigues and sexual shenanigans. The corridors of the Winter Palace are teeming with mistresses, assassins and false Dimitris. Nitroglycerin is stored under pillows. Heirs have fits and conveniently fall on their daggers. Brides-to-be are poisoned so often you'd think that they'd wise up and look for husbands elsewhere.

Of course, there is more to this work than colourful anecdotes, but where's the fun in war and politics? Only half kidding. 300 years are crammed into 650 pages, which eventually made me lose track of the bit players and their political motivations and animosities. Which was ok, because I was able to lean back and enjoy the tsar mania, but if you would like a deeper understanding of Russian history, you need further reading. This book tells the history of the Romanovs, and does it wonderfully.
Profile Image for Antonomasia.
973 reviews1,195 followers
January 8, 2021
History as long-running soap - revelling in the lurid and dramatic; personality-focused, deliberately emotive. This was another popular history on a semi-familiar subject which I chose for audio because I wouldn't feel the need to take lots of notes, the way I would with something more academic or newer to me.

It's also yet another of these bottom-heavy survey histories with far more detailed coverage of later periods, frustrating for readers who would rather hear more about the earlier stuff. Initially it's simply a history of the royals and their court. Then, in the first half of the 19th century, cultural history becomes noticeable, as Pushkin is the first individual who's neither a Romanov, nor a lover or minister of one, to get substantial attention. By the mid-to-late 19th century, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and various political and revolutionary factions are mentioned frequently. Finally, the last 28% of the book is given over to 8% of the time period mentioned on the cover: to the reign and demise of Nicholas II and Alexandra - whose deaths had already been described once in the prologue, in some detail.

At time of writing the book seems to have done the main thing I expected from it, improved my sense of the personalities of various Russian monarchs. I never wanted to hear this much about Nicholas and Alexandra. (It confirmed just how unsuited to rule they were, at most they should have been some middling aristos on a country estate - suburbanites, even - and also unfortunately made their personalities, which I'd only had a hazy sense of previously, less likeable as far as I was concerned. Nevertheless the family's strength of character after being deposed may be admired.) But it was probably a good thing I heard more about the international politics leading up to the First World War (which I'd never been interested enough to look into otherwise). With much of the book being about personality and atmosphere rather than a bombardment of facts (though there was more regular, precise info in the early twentieth century material) it worked well as audio.

In a book about royalty or aristocracy by a British upper-middle-class* author who isn't an academic historian (never mind one who was also a Times journalist) there are some things that can reliably be expected. Simon Sebag Motefiore's The Romanovs fills this bingo card nicely:

- a gossipy, tabloid focus on the more lurid aspects of the characters' lives and on personalities, rather than, say, cultural and social history. (Hearing about all the torture, mutilation and brutal punishments here is wearing. But a happier side-effect of this tabloid approach is hearing about lots of lesbian and bi action at the 18th century Russian court, including what sounded like a fully functioning and happy FMF poly triad.)

- an obvious general fascination with, liking for, and acceptance of, royalty as a milieu and institution. (If that will annoy you too much, don't read these books.)

- acceptance of most historical sources at face value rather than querying the interests and biases of those who wrote them

- if a modern book, as this is, occasional passing acknowledgement of the lower classes and how historical royalty depended on and exploited them (but strictly occasional and passing except where they are relevant to a royal's day to day life - such as, here, 19th century tsars and the politicking around the abolition of serfdom)

- various inaccuracies and basic errors that you'd hope a professional historian wouldn't make (But then Russian history in the UK also has Orlando Figes. Figes' errors are the sort that need to be pointed out by those who've studied his field, whereas Montefiore has a few that are even obvious to those with decent general knowledge.)

- occasional embarrassing problematic phrasing (Did he really use that adjective about Pushkin? What was that he said about women and binge drinking? And how does the latter fit with the author being married to one of the Palmer-Tomkinson sisters - socialites famous for their partying in the 90s.)

- mention of author's titled ancestor (Though this one had a more progressive mission than the typical examples - the 1839 diplomatic trip to St Petersburg by Sir Moses Montefiore, friend of PM Robert Peel and activist against antisemitism [actually knighted a few years later], to try to persuade Tsar Nicholas I that the blood libel was a fiction and to alter increasingly aggressive policies against Jews.)

Some of the most interesting material here was stuff which suggested subjects for other books with a narrower focus. Undoubtedly there have been academic works about these, but I think there would be an appetite for popular history in English about them too, if only the books were available.

Saying that, there actually are books on Jewish life in Russia that aren't just hidden away with expensive university presses - the more or less antisemitic attitudes of a succession of Tsars are usually mentioned at some point during each reign, and how this affected policies towards Jews. Montefiore presents these indictments and fluctuations methodically without overt ranting, in a way one suspects his Victorian collateral ancestor would have been proud of

But of these topics that don't otherwise get much separate attention in English, one is LGBT life at the Imperial Russian court: not only the aforementioned 18th century romps, but before and after, there were fairly frequent mentions of gay ministers or courtiers, and maybe two or three people who'd probably be considered trans these days.

Then there are the foreigners at court, often colourful personalities. (Especially, but certainly not only, under Peter the Great.) I don't know whether it's because all the Russian history I've read/heard in book form has been by non-Russians, usually native English speakers, that there are often so many mentions of court personalities and staff who came from Western Europe, especially Britain, but there do seem to be more of these influential foreigners than there were in Britain and France during the same period, though there were also quite a few in Spain. It is a cliché of popular history to describe Russia as torn between East and West, but it seems that in terms of foreigners at court, the leaning was definitely Western. There are none mentioned from the East outside the future USSR, though locations such as the Caucasus, and the lands of Tatars and Kalmyks were more*other* then. There were a few black Africans, such Pushkin's grandfather, and the 'Nubian' Imperial Guards, about whom there are some intriguing stories, such as that, when black Americans heard about the regiment in the 19th century, some emigrated to Russia in the hope of getting this job with a higher status than they could have got in the USA. After the revolution, the Nubian Guards "almost vanish from history", with a tantalising anecdote that "during the 1920s, an American visitor to Moscow spotted a tall black man wandering through the streets still wearing shabby imperial court dress". This is crying out for a historical novel.

Western academic historians of Russia have been talking about Russia as a colonial power (in parallel with Britain and other West European countries) at least since the 90s. In recent years, more popular British history has started to discuss British colonialism seriously and critically. But the idea of Russian colonialism still seems to be neglected in popular histories of that country. There is a bit about it here, but as various campaigns rather than a general idea, rather than pointing out that Russia was very much a colonising power, but because most of its colonies were contiguous, and still part of the state today, it's not necessarily obvious. There is hardly anything in this book about indigenous peoples of the conquered territories, a fascinating subject that is still mostly sidelined to specialist literature. The most detailed material here about imperialist conflict is under Nicholas II, with a focus on borders with China. It always surprises me that all that stuff was still going on so late; I keep thinking, "have you not stopped that by now?" - even though I know the British Empire's largest extent was in 1918, it just collapsed precipitously afterwards.

Probably because the author is British, there is quite a lot of attention to relations with the UK; under the later Tsars, once Romanovs were marrying into European royalty, these are family connections as much as anything. Due to those and to British cultural dominance at the time, there's some emphasis on the Englishness of Nicholas and to a lesser extent Alexandra; upbringing, temperament, taste. More intriguing to hear was how reluctant and regretful the upper echelons seemed to be about going into the First World War; some diplomats were friends, monarchs were related to each other and seemed to have a camaraderie different from those of a couple of hundred years earlier. More sensational are the revelations from British diplomats' letters about involvement in, or at least strong encouragement of, the assassination of Rasputin - and the plan to bring the deposed Tsar to Balmoral via Scapa Flow, about which George V changed his mind after receiving letters from "working men", and evidently fearing a revolutionary uprising in solidarity with Russia. (This made no difference, as the Romanovs didn't manage to leave with the right timing anyway.)

Another recurring feature, which a lot of readers could probably do without, was the extensive and, worse, repetitive, quotes from sexual passages in Imperial love-letters. Some of my reaction is probably down to getting old, but no matter how much I used to put it about, I have always found tales of other people's silly sex words ridiculous, and, yes, unsexy. (No, Montefiore, not "every passionate couple" has a set of pet names for each others' genitals - a disdain I learned through British comedy as much as anything.)

Peter the Great seems to have cast a shadow over all subsequent Tsars and heirs, befitting his name and height: all were expected, and felt obliged, to practise the same militarism which had been his passionate interest, even if their personalities were hardly suited to it. Whilst his westernising shifted in and out of fashion, in other respects he provided the template for what and how a Tsar should be, and this seems to have been one of the many reasons (under-explored in this book) that Russia resisted reforms such as a constitutional monarchy. The belief in the Divine Right of Kings (as per the English term) or 'holy autocracy' right down to Nicholas II in the early twentieth century is almost surreal from a Western perspective. Attitudes have shifted globally. I'd assume that these days, a dictator provides actual arguments about why democracy is bad (if not pretending it exists in his country when it actually doesn't), and can't simply make this kind of aside, like a character out of Wodehouse or Wilde: "The ex-tsar was appalled that Misha’s manifesto had contained ‘something about elections. God knows who advised him to sign something so vile.’"

Some of the terminology is interesting. Ever since we did the Russian Revolution at school (very soon after the fall of Soviet communism, using textbooks that pre-dated it), and in historical novels, radio and TV programmes - a string of popular sources I can't necessarily name - I've been used to the word "revolutionaries" describing those who attempted to assassinate Tsars from the mid-19th century onwards. Montefiore calls them "terrorists", which seems like a very political choice (pro-monarchist), and highlights how "revolutionaries" was one too - but it also, in the post-9/11 world, highlights how they were seen by the Russian establishment of the time, rather than by that of the future, a future where, for most of the 20th century, they turned out to be on the right side. Only as 1917 approaches do such people consistently become "revolutionaries" in the narrative. Another, perhaps odder choice is repeatedly describing Alexandra as "hysterical" when not quoting from sources - given its context (never discussed in the book) as a Victorian and early twentieth century medical term which is now discredited. Lack of discussion of word choices like these is just one of the many ways in which this book really doesn't read like history by someone with a PhD in the subject. Maybe some people are scholarly to the bone, whilst for others it's a style to dip in and out of - and if you know how to do that well enough, you can go a long way with it.

Whilst there isn't much serious analysis of the Romanov monarchy - the writing is nearer intelligent fandom than academic history - the author, in conclusion, makes the best summary of contemporary Russia (at least as it's presented in the West) that I've seen:

Putinism blended Romanov authoritarianism, Orthodox sanctity, Russian nationalism, crony capitalism, Soviet bureaucracy and the fixtures of democracy, elections and parliaments. If there was an ideology, it was bitterness towards and contempt for America; nostalgia for the Soviet Union and the Romanov empire, but its spirit was a cult of authority and the entitlement to get rich in state service. The Slavophile mission of the Orthodox nation, superior to the West, and exceptional in its character, has replaced that of Marxist internationalism. While the Orthodox Patriarch Kyril has called Putin a ‘miracle of God’ for Russia, the president himself sees ‘the Russian people as the core of a unique civilization’. Peter the Great and Stalin are both treated as triumphant Russian rulers. Today’s Russia is the heir of both, a fusion of imperial Stalinism and twenty-first-century digital authoritarianism. Putin rules by the Romanov compact: autocracy and the rule of a tiny clique in return for the delivery of prosperity at home and glory abroad.

Simon Russell Beale is an excellent and involving narrator (notwithstanding a handful of mispronunciations, largely non-Russian words such as Circassian and Białowieża, which probably indicate that the 'pronunciation consultant' credited at the end was solely a Russian specialist). I would gladly listen to more read by him, but it seems that this is the only audiobook he's done, and Wikipedia would suggest that he usually has more than enough work as a highly regarded stage actor.

* I mean upper-middle-class in the narrower British sense of someone related to titled aristocracy and gentry, who moves in those circles, and who was probably educated at boarding school, rather than 'anyone with a highly-paid professional job', in the American sense.

(Dec 2020-Jan 2021.
7 Jan, Russian Christmas)
Profile Image for Gary Inbinder.
Author 8 books171 followers
February 26, 2018
“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
― William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2
The story of the Romanovs begins and ends in troubled times. The Romanov Dynasty was established in 1613 following a period of fifteen years known as the Time of Troubles, which began with the death of Feodor (1598), the last Rurik Dynasty tsar. It was a time of famine, war, civil unrest, usurpers and imposters. No wonder the teenage Michael Romanov, son of Fyodor (later Patriarch and Great Sovereign Filaret) and grandnephew of Ivan the Terrible, was reluctant to accept the crown.
“The transformation of Michael’s life must have been convulsive…He and his mother were undoubtedly terrified of what awaited them in the capital and they had every reason to be anxious. Yet now this teenager of an untitled noble family, whose father was lost in a foreign prison, found greatness thrust upon him, a greatness that he owed, above all, to the family’s first patron, Ivan the Terrible.”
As things turned out, Michael was up to the task and his reign began, for better or worse, three centuries of Romanov rule. Montefiore chronicles a period of imperial expansion, barbarity, enlightenment, opulence, excess, depravity, court intrigue, madness, cruelty, oppression, victories, defeats, coups, assassinations and bloody revolution that culminated in the slaughter of the last of the Romanov Tsars and his family.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”
― John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton
The tsars were autocrats, absolute rulers. Strong or weak, wise or foolish, sane or mad, they tried to rule an expanding empire as God’s anointed defender of the Orthodox Church with a mystical connection to the people and the land. They lived under constant threat of assassination, coup, civil war and revolution, a situation where no one could be trusted, requiring protection from a network of police spies and informers, harsh and repressive measures, torture, execution, imprisonment and exile, and the persecution of scapegoats, most particularly the Jews. Alexander II, the most progressive and sympathetic of the tsars, freed the serfs and attempted modest reforms. As a result, he was hated by both the right and the left; his life was cut short by an anarchist’s bomb. The hope for a more moderate, constitutional monarchy died with him.
In an epilogue titled Red Tsars/White Stars Montefiore answers Tsarevich Alexei’s question when told his father had abdicated: “Then who’s going to rule Russia?” He briefly comments on subsequent rulers, from Lenin and Stalin, who believed Russia needed a “tsar” and acted accordingly, to the breakup of the Soviet Union and democratic reforms under Yeltsin, to Putin “…a skillful and opportunistic ruler who has again placed Russia at the center of world affairs while neglecting to reform.” Montefiore concludes, “The Romanovs are gone but the predicament of Russian autocracy lives on.”
Montefiore tells the story well with a compelling, well-researched narrative filled with minute details of the Romanov’s daily lives set against the backdrop of three turbulent centuries. He uses a clever device, breaking his narrative into scenes with a cast of characters, like in a play. I found this method helpful, because keeping the Romanov players straight, especially with the similarities in names, not to mention nicknames, can be confusing.

Profile Image for Zorka Zamfirova.
250 reviews21 followers
July 17, 2021
Pravo je zadovoljstvo čitati. Poslastica! Neverovatan uvid u splet okolnosti koje su stvorile istoriju. Kakve sudbine. Montefiore piše lepo. Knjiga prosto klizi. Izuzetno!
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
647 reviews80 followers
December 28, 2016
A story of brutality, sex and power

Sebag Montefiore, known for his excellent works about Stalin and Catherine the Great, delves into the Romanovs - the imperial family who ruled Russia for more than 300 years. It is a tale of torture and sexual escapades. Tsars are displayed as modern day Caligula's.

Based on newly disclosed personal letters, Sebag Montefiore tells a tale of enjoyable passages, but nowhere are the scenes set in the greater historical events. Finally, in the last chapters, Sebag Montefiore shows his qualities as a true historian: the final stages of the imperial family and their murders by the communists are chilling and set against the background of the historical event.

Unfortunately, the book is snowed under by erotical achievements and gossip, where instead he could better have concentrated on the development of the Russian monarchy and the effect of its rulers in the greater historical context.
Profile Image for Nadhira Satria.
432 reviews729 followers
April 25, 2021
Amazing!!!! This book gave me sooo much knowledge on the old tsars and tsarinas of Russia. I have an obsession with Russian history and this book quenched my thirst for more knowledge about imperial Russia and the Romanovs
Profile Image for Mike.
483 reviews376 followers
June 22, 2022
This book was a disappointment. In a weird way its failing was concentrating too much on the Romanovs. I know, weird criticism of a book literally called "the Romanovs", but you can't understand historical figures by merely looking at just them.

Historical figures are important for the change (for better or worse) they affect on the world. George Washington isn't important because he is George Washington, he is important because of the effect he had on history. The Romanovs were extremely impactful on European (and obviously Russian) history but Montefiore eschewed exploring these impacts in favor of intra-family matters. And it is all well and good to explore such dynamics (like I said, the book is called "The Romanovs" so they should be center stage), but I couldn't help but feel that by concentrating too closely on the family and breezing over major world and Russian events we lost a rich part of their story.

They aren't interesting because they are Romanovs, they are interesting because of how they impacted the flow of history. By not seeing the full extent of their influence over events we only get a partial perspective on this dynasty. We lose sight of the forest because we care too much abot a specific copse of trees in it. By the end I was mostly skimming because, as important as they might be, they were, for the most part, terrible people. Oppressors, philanderers, narcissists, bigots, control freaks, and generally not fun to be around. Which would be fine if we could see how these flaws impacted the world instead of just seeing the same shortcomings over and over again in the same family for 400 years and very little else.
Profile Image for Dave Cullen.
Author 10 books60.5k followers
September 10, 2016
My early read on this book is enthralled. I'm just on p. 37 (plus the epilogue that I started with, and half the intro that I dispensed with), and I'm totally sucked in.

I've already learned a great deal about how the peculiar Russian aristocracy works, and when I plunge back into Anna Karenina soon, it will be with much clearer vision.

The pace feels just right for now, giving me the clarity I hoped for on the origin of the line, starting just far back enough to set the stage, and a clear picture of the machinations that went on to establish things.

We'll see if I tire of that after 600 pages. (A book on the whole Plantagenet line started similarly for me, but I eventually grew weary of the minutiae. These seems to be avoiding some of those traps, though: detail yes, but not drowning in it: details that illuminate the patterns, so far.)

I've got a long way, but I read slowly, and expect to go back and forth between this and Anna. So that's my early take. I'll update.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,774 reviews1,253 followers
June 12, 2018
Disappointing account of the Romanovs - the author deliberately sets out to provide a comprehensive account of the whole dynasty and has used his family (royal) connections and recent opening up of Russian archives to access lots of private information

However as a result the book is excessively detailed and leaves the reader marooned in: a bewildering list of royal relatives; tedious expositions of their lovers and affairs and love letters; gruesome and repetitive accounts of plots, counter plots and resulting tortures and punishments and lots of other extraneous detail.

What the book lacks is any attempt to give context of an overview - crucial parts such as the Cossacks, Tartars and the Bolsheviks are relegated to footnotes which are otherwise reserved for details too tedious even for the author to include in the main text.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,438 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.