NICHOLAS II by Marc Ferro


The Last of the Tsars
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 Ferro (Social Sciences/êcole des Hautes êtudes, Paris; The Russian Revolution of February 1917, 1972), an expert on the political details of the Russian Revolution, claims to offer new information in this political biography of Tsar Nicholas II. But since its original appearance in England in 1991, Ferro's volume has been outdone and outdated by Edvard Radzinsky's magisterial The Last Tsar (1992). With long excerpts from letters and diaries, as well as with interviews with survivors and descendants, Radzinsky offered not only the harrowing life of Nicholas as tsar, father, and husband but also the terrible price of being part of Nicholas's family; he also wrote of his own odyssey in recovering the family's stories. Ferro, on the other hand--saying that the Soviet Union withheld necessary information and that the archives are closed--depicts a Nicholas who is variously an ``ordinary man'' and a ``victim of History,'' both brutal and feckless, a conformist and traditionalist--a man dominated by his wife and disdainful of intellectual and Jews. The author offers an inadequate analogy between Nicholas and Louis XVI, another pleasure-loving king confused by contemporary ideas, and baffled by the reformers, and acquiring only belatedly the political acumen that might have saved him. The execution of the tsar's family is buried here in a complicated argument over who was responsible for it: Ferro blames the Bolsheviks but not Lenin himself, who, he claims, negotiated with the Germans to save the tsaretsa and her daughters. And although sightings of Anastasia and other family members are nearly as ubiquitous in scholarship and popular culture as sightings of Elvis or UFOs, Ferro claims that ``no professional historian has thought until now'' to question reports of the family's survival. Overly cerebral and full of vague conviction, blame, judgment, and collective opinion. The human drama--from the execution of Rasputin to the struggle of the tsar's family to understand, escape, and survive--is displaced here by abstract argument. (Illustrations)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-508192-7
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1993