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Nicholas and Alexandra
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Buddy Reads > Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie (August/Sept 2018)

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message 1: by Susan (last edited Jul 16, 2018 09:01AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Susan | 10646 comments Mod
The story of the love that ended an empire

In this commanding book, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs' lives: Nicholas's political naïveté, Alexandra's obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis's brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history--the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.

Published in 1967, this biography remains, in many ways, the definitive book about the Last Tsar, and his family, and inspired a film and a later sequel to the book, The Romanovs: The Final Chapter The Romanovs The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

This biography was written in a time when there was little interest in the Imperial Family and was inspired when author, Robert K. Massie discovered his son had hemophilia.

Without doubt, it inspired a whole host of other books on the subject, which have become numerous over the years. However, despite later research, this remains a colourful, vivid and full account of those years.

We look forward to as many people as possible joining in the buddy read of this title from mid-August. Whether or not you have read the book, just feel free to come and chat about anything Romanov.


message 2: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10399 comments Mod
Welcome to this August/Sept 2018 buddy read for Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie


Here's to a wonderful discussion





Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Thank you for opening the thread, Nigeyb. I have long been fascinated with the Russian Revolution and the last Tsar. I think this is a classic and Massie really told the story of Nicholas and Alexandra for the first time.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I first read this when I was at college, I think. I hadn't realised it was published as early as 1967 (I nearly wrote that I read this when it came out, before realising I was only one years old!). I was also interested, on re-reading this, to see that Robert Massie was inspired to read it after finding out his eldest son had hemophilia. I recall watching a documentary about the disease in the nineties, but a quick look at the history of how it is treated, shows that life expectancy was very low, even up to the 1960's.

https://hemophilianewstoday.com/2017/...


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Here is an interesting article about Queen Victoria, her descendents and the disease.

http://www.englishmonarchs.co.uk/haem...


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
I hadn't read this before despite having had it sitting on my shelves for years... I was also interested in the way that Massie makes Alexei's haemophilia so central to the story, almost THE explanation for everything that happened. It did also, perhaps understandably, make him feel very close to Nicky and Alix as fellow parents of a haemophiliac child - so this certainly isn't neutral or unbiased.

We should remember, too, that written in 1967, it didn't have access to the same level of Soviet sources as are now available given the opening of the archives since the fall of communism.

Despite these biases, I found this a tremendous read. It doesn't pretend to be a history of the Revolution and offers up a very human and personal portrait of the last tsar and his family.

Did anyone else feel that he blames Alix too much for political events? It's almost as if he identifies so strongly with Nicholas that he tries to wriggle him out from political blinkeredness and stubborn folly.


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Oh and it made me think, too, of the conversations we had about the suffragettes earlier this year. In Russia, there was no constitution or political suffrage for *anyone* until the 1905 Revolution, and even the various Dumas after that date made only slight inroads into the tsar's autocracy. The Duma had no law-making powers, as I understand, and the tsar always had the power of veto.

It's interesting to think that while women were agitating for the vote in the UK, the whole of Russia was doing something similar.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
That''s such an important point, RC. Nobody had the vote and Nicholas was very against allowing any political changes - they virtually had to be vested away from him and it was too little and too late.

I also thought Alexandra was blamed, when it was really Nicholas who was supposed to be in charge. He KNEW she leaked information to Rasputin, and others, yet still told her everything. He laid her open to criticism. Mind you, much as I sympathised with her wish to be left alone and not take part in society, she was really the wrong person to be Tsarina. She was disliked by all levels of society.


Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I haven’t started this yet, but my husband remembers his mum reading it when it first came out, and I think it made quite an impression on her.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I have read quite a few books about this era, from various viewpoints - that of the revolution, about Rasputin, etc. I do think this is a good book to start with.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Talking of Rasputin, he really looms like a shadow over this book. What does anyone think of him - regardless of whether you have read this book or not? I have read a couple of books about him, although mainly about his assassination, and I would like to read a proper biography.


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Yes, Rasputin is fascinating - he's almost like a grotesque character out of Dostoevsky! I've also read a book about him but that too concentrated on that bizarre assassination.

This is one part of the story where the haemophilia explanation for events seems to make sense: it's hard to imagine a German princess, and granddaughter of Queen Victoria, being so superstitious and subservient to a Russian mystic. This book made me understand how much pain Alexei went through and so I could understand how Alix came to believe in and rely on Rasputin when legitimate doctors could do nothing.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
She must have been desperate when Rasputin was killed. His prophecy was also pretty chilling.

https://www.damninteresting.com/retir...


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Ooh, interesting!

I was struck too by the way Massie lumps all the Romanov daughters together - of course, this may be due to what sources were available to him or just his focus being elsewhere but it's clear to see that there's a big gap that was just waiting to be filled by Rappaport's The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra.


message 16: by Nigeyb (new)

Nigeyb | 10399 comments Mod
Most of my knowledge about Rasputin comes from the lyrics of the Boney M song :-)

Though I did also watch a rather interesting documentary about him about 9 months ago.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I want to read the Douglas Smith biography Rasputin: The Biography Rasputin The Biography by Douglas Smith as I was just over-whelmed by his previous work Former People: The Last Days of the Russian Aristocracy Former People The Last Days of the Russian Aristocracy by Douglas Smith (such a chilling phrase...).

A book I enjoyed vastly was The Murder Of Rasputin The Truth About Prince Felix Youssoupov And The Mad Monk Who Helped Bring Down The Romanovs by Greg King The Murder Of Rasputin: The Truth About Prince Felix Youssoupov And The Mad Monk Who Helped Bring Down The Romanovs


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Also, To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Gregori Rasputin To Kill Rasputin The Life and Death of Gregori Rasputin by Andrew Cook which was an incredible read.

I would be interested in anyone else's recommendation?


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Sorry, no recommendations but I like the sound of Former People, just liked your review :)

I'm pretty sure that The Murder of Rasputin is the book I read.

Can anyone suggest books that were more positive about the Revolution without the hindsight of Stalin, the gulag etc? I keep meaning to read Ten Days that Shook the World. And Doctor Zhivago was more positive, certainly than the famous film, and even the soviets were puzzled about its suppression once it finally made it to Russia.

Fascinating topic!


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I think Ten Days that Shook the World would be an interesting read, RC.


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Possible future buddy read? Though I know there's a lot scheduled... I'd be in anyway!


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Just going back to the Massie, I was both fascinated and horrified at the Russian army's arcane tactics in WW1. I knew their soldiers were ill-equipped (for which, surely, we have to blame the tsar) but didn't know previously about the hussars/cavalry riding out with just sabres against the German field artillery...


message 23: by Emma (new)

Emma (keeperofthearchives) Damn, did I miss this read? I like Massie’s style. His book on Peter the Great was fascinating- he was even more fascinating than N & A in my opinion, but sadly it’s way out of the time range for this group.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I would be up for another Buddy Read from this era, but not quite sure when we will fit it in :) Still, let's keep that thought...

Yes, it was fascinating to see how Russia was not only military badly equipped, but how fewer factories/industry, for example, they had than the rest of Europe. It was still, largely, an agricultural society, with serfs tied to the land, and the landowners.

I know I keep skipping to other books, but Speak, Memory Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov is a wonderful memoir by Nabakov, which addresses his privileged, Russian childhood and really presents a picture of those landowners.

Nicholas taking over the army was a really bad move. He kept laying himself open to blame, didn't he? If you are the autocrat of all the Russia's, then you can't sack yourself and a scapegoat is always handy, unless it's your wife. And he did really love his wife, always, despite her faults. If they had been the British royal family, for example, the press would have loved them - no scandal, pretty, photogenic children, etc. He was just born in the wrong place.

Then, there is the British refusal to take them in after the revolution....


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Emma, you are very welcome to join in the discussion. I don't think having read the book is essential, as we are discussing all things Revolution, Romanov and Rasputin :)


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
You know, I have never read anything else by Massie, but I picked up a couple when they were 99p a while back and have Peter the Great and Catherine (also Great!) on my kindle.


message 27: by Emma (last edited Aug 19, 2018 11:27PM) (new)

Emma (keeperofthearchives) Oh you’re in for a treat, Susan. Peter was a moderniser/westerniser but also a true Russian autocrat. The crazy stuff that went on during his reign is well worth reading.

And thanks! I recently read Simon S Montefiore on the Romanovs (awesome) which included this period so I’ll try to keep up.


message 28: by Emma (new)

Emma (keeperofthearchives) Roman Clodia wrote: "Just going back to the Massie, I was both fascinated and horrified at the Russian army's arcane tactics in WW1. I knew their soldiers were ill-equipped (for which, surely, we have to blame the tsar..."

Many soldiers were sent out without weapons or even boots, they were expected to scavenge from the dead of both sides.

Can you even imagine?


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
One of the things about the Massie book, which I should mention, is that he wrote this in 1967, after discovering his eldest son has haemophilia. Alexei's illness and the influence of Rasputin is central to the book and he builds events around that fact. Obviously, this had an emotional resonance for Massie.

Talking of WWI, it was obvious that Alexandra really cared for the soldiers. She was involved in operations, doing real, hands-on nursing. Yet, nothing she did warmed her to the people. Do we think people were just too suspicious of her at that point?


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Having mused on this for a while, I am wondering why Alexandra was SO adamant that Nicholas should not give up any power and keep everything together for their son. Considering his illness and, realistically, his ability to rule into an age that would see him producing an heir of his own, I would have thought she would have preferred to have retreated slightly, from power.


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Yes, interesting question given that her family inheritances via Queen Victoria meant she'd grown up in more democratic societies. But when Alix calls herself Russian, she seems to appropriate wholeheartedly the idea of an autocracy and is determined that that legacy will be passed to her son.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Do you think he could ever really have inherited the throne?


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
In a different historical, political, social context? Probably. After all, there had been 'mad' tsars in the past propped up by their court advisers. Nicholas had been careful to keep the haemophilia a secret presumably so that Alexei could inherit without having his health made the subject of public discussion.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I wonder what the speculation was around Alexei, though? He was often seen being carried, for example. People must have known something was wrong, even if they weren't sure what it was.


message 35: by Judy (last edited Aug 25, 2018 12:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I've started reading this now - only a little way in, but I'm enjoying Massie's style. He draws a vivid contrast between the lives of the peasants who in some cases never went outside their own villages and the luxury of the wealthy in St Petersburg.

I was a bit startled though to see that the book is 1007 pages in the Kindle version on Scribd - it might take me a while to finish! I see the paper copies are nearer to 600 pages, though, so it must be small pages in the Kindle version.

Editing to say the same edition I'm reading, from Head of Zeus, is also listed at 600-ish pages elsewhere, so I don't think it will be 1,000 pages. Phew.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
With so many non-fiction books, Judy, you need to lose about a quarter of the book to the index, etc.

It is a long book, but it seems shorter - it's such a great read.


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
I switched between the paperback and Kindle versions and agree, it feels like a shorter read than 600 pages as it's just so darn gripping! It's a shame that the Kindle edition doesn't have the photos of the pb (though I guess we all just Google for them now).

Did someone mention a buddy read of more Massie? I've got his Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman so would be interested... if there's ever a space in the group schedule!


Roman Clodia | 5693 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I wonder what the speculation was around Alexei, though? He was often seen being carried, for example. People must have known something was wrong, even if they weren't sure what it was."

It's difficult to put ourselves into the mindset of people who have lived under an autocracy for generations, and where the tsar and his family are imbued with divine, spiritual and mystical status. We 'read' Alexei through rational, modern eyes, alive to his medical history.

You're right though, it's an interesting 'what if': if the revolution hadn't intervened would Alexei have inherited the throne or would it have passed to a male relative? Might Alexandra have been a second Catherine de Medici as regent to her son? Intriguing!


message 39: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Thanks, Susan and RC - I am already noticing that it feels like a quicker read than its length suggests. I had wondered if it might have an index etc, but wasn't sure that was so likely for a 1960s book - this kind of material seems to have spread in more recent academic books!


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I do like Massie's writing. Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman Catherine the Great Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie is outside our period, but I doubt that would matter for a Buddy Read. It can be our next 'big' book after Thomas Mann.

Incidentally, there is much about Mann in The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich The Bitter Taste of Victory Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich by Lara Feigel
That was a great suggestion, Judy, I really enjoyed it.

I also heartily recommend Auntie's War: The BBC during the Second World War Auntie's War The BBC during the Second World War by Edward Stourton which I loved.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
There is also Peter the Great: His Life and World if we wanted to do the whole trilogy, backwards?!


message 42: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I'm all behind at the moment, Susan, so I haven't started The Bitter Taste of Victory yet, but will get to it in time for our read! Glad to hear you enjoyed it.


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I have to read our Detectives Buddy Reads and Human Voices, but am nearly finished the Ngaio Marsh. I want to cut down my NetGalley books, so I can read more personal reads, as the book club list seems to grow every month!


message 44: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
I've just read about the disaster at Khodynka Meadow - it seems almost unbelievable that they went ahead with a ball straight afterwards just in case the French were offended because they had lent them treasures to deck the ballroom!

This blog post has some illustrations related to this story - one of them is a shocking photo of a pile of bodies.

https://lisawallerrogers.com/2011/06/...


message 45: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Susan wrote: "I have to read our Detectives Buddy Reads and Human Voices, but am nearly finished the Ngaio Marsh. I want to cut down my NetGalley books, so I can read more personal reads, as the book club list s..."

Susan, I'm definitely biting off more than I can chew when it comes to books, but it is hard to resist...


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
Judy, yes, it is certainly hard to say no; especially when there are so many tempting titles each month (I hope our members also find them tempting!).

I think the disaster at Khodynka Meadow was a prime example of Nicholas being bullied by his uncles into doing something he knew, in his heart, was wrong. Alexandra was crying at the ball, so the whole thing seemed pointless anyway and Alexandra began, quickly, to get a reputation for being 'unlucky,' and 'uncaring.'


message 47: by Judy (last edited Aug 25, 2018 02:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
On Khodynka Meadow, Massie says the stampede was caused by a rumour that free beer would run out.

But a more recent book quoted in the blog I linked to above, Alexandra: The Last Tsarina, says the crowds had been promised gifts including "sausage, bread rolls, sweets, nuts, gingerbread and a precious keepsake – a pink enamel mug bearing the arms of the city of Moscow and the words “In memory of the Holy Coronation,” all wrapped together in a colored kerchief stamped with the tsar and tsarina’s pictures.”


Susan | 10646 comments Mod
I have heard the mug explanation before too, Judy.


message 49: by Judy (new) - rated it 4 stars

Judy (wwwgoodreadscomprofilejudyg) | 4675 comments Mod
Susan, I'm just coming on to a description of the uncles now. They do sound formidable.


Barbara | 41 comments Anyone know why sometimes it's "tsarina" and sometimes "tsaritsa"? Just curious.....


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