A compelling biography of one of the great historical enigmas of the last century. (24 pages of b&w photos and...


A fascinating history of the Russian visionary Rasputin, whose strange influence over the imperial family during the twilight of the Romanov dynasty reads like something out of a gothic novel.

Radzinsky is an accomplished playwright and biographer (The Last Tsar, 1992; Stalin,1996). Here he follows up on his earlier portrait of Nicholas II and the various figures, wholesome and malign, who orbited around him during the last years of his reign. Rasputin was a faith healer, spiritualist, drunk, and lecher. A Siberian peasant whose origins were as murky as his aims, Rasputin did not leave a terribly clear account of himself behind. Most of the primary-source texts describing him were written either by his enemies or by the secret police, and Rosengrant’s fluid translation allows us to follow the highly byzantine paper trail Rasputin bequeathed to his future biographers. Radzinsky places his young subject deep in the Siberian pastimes of alcohol and lawlessness. The climax of these early years of debauchery and violence, according to Rasputin’s own account, was a strange and overwhelming epiphany that literally hit him in the face, inducing in him a cleansing repentance from the blood and pain of his youth. He left a young family for years of penitential wandering across the length and breadth of “Holy Russia,” and eventually joined a strange flagellant cult of `Christ Believers` who mixed Orthodoxy with paganism. Sweaty, ecstatic dancing and singing led to `promiscuous sexual relations among the sect membership . . . where the Holy Spirit descended upon them . . . and the sect would try to conceive . . . new Christs and Mothers of God.` Soon Rasputin had developed a cult of his own, one that eventually brought him to the attention of the imperial court. Radzinsky reveals the secret behind Rasputin's psycho-spiritual hold on the tsarina and many other powerful women and men, and fleshes out the wide picture of Rasputin's many friends and foes, including the wealthy transvestite who murders him.

A compelling biography of one of the great historical enigmas of the last century. (24 pages of b&w photos and illustration)

Pub Date: May 4, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-48909-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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