NICHOLAS II by Dominic Lieven


Twilight of the Empire
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 Lieven (a political historian at the London School of Economics whose specialty is imperial Russia: Russia's Rulers Before the Revolution, 1989, etc.--not reviewed) reinterprets the life and political significance of Nicholas II in light of the USSR's collapse. Unlike Edvard Radzinsky in his magisterial Last Tsar (1992)- -which depicted Nicholas as doting, charming, and ineffectual--and Marc Ferro in Nicholas II (p. 274)--which portrayed the Russian ruler as a politically naive, pleasure-loving king in the tradition of Louis XVI--Lieven presents Nicholas as an anachronism, a patriarchal leader crippled by tradition, bureaucracy, and an inability to deal with the social and technological changes that challenged his authority. As a political leader, Lieven says, Nicholas failed to deal with the abysmal poverty of the peasants and overreacted to the ``Yellow Peril,'' expending resources in a wasteful and remote war with Japan. Surrounded by a bureaucracy, as well as by a jealous and petty aristocracy, he ran the government as a family business that both isolated him from the contemporary world and caused him to fritter away his time on trivia: This ruler of 150 million had no personal secretary and answered all his own correspondence. Rasputin gained power, Lieven explains, because he represented the faith of the peasants, on which Nicholas relied. By comparing Nicholas with other monarchs in Japan, Germany, and especially Persia (in the figure of the shah, whom Nicholas resembled in many personal ways), Lieven introduces an international context to explain the inevitability of the tsar's destruction in a terrible incongruence of time, temperament, and talent. In the chapter dealing with Nicholas's execution, the author displays a skill at dramatic writing that's equal to his cool and dispassionate political analysis--an analysis that culminates in his discussion of the relevance of Nicholas to Russia's struggle to recover its sense of identity after the collapse of Communism. A rare balance of personal and political insight: timely and persuasive.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-312-10510-X
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1993


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