An atmospheric, if somewhat simplistic, portrait of Ivan IV of Russia, who was indeed the Terrible, at least in his near-psychotic fondness for bloodbaths recreated here with all their grisly largesse. His intelligence and wily gamesmanship is de-emphasized. The authors attribute the first Tsar's staying power to Russian religion and tradition -- which must in part be true -- but Ivan, who took over his late. father's title of Grand Prince as a child and was raised, like to many child rulers, by feuding nobles (boyars), managed to keep his head; at his majority, he saw that his enemies lost theirs. ""Figurehead, talisman, object of adoration, symbol of Russian dynastic traditions, offerer of angelic prayers,"" he appeared at first as a champion of the common people against the boyars -- a political technique which has become a Russian heirloom. Ivan was also the true founder of the Russian empire, as the Russians finally beat back and assimilated the Tatars and expanded toward the Crimea and the Baltic, although the authors contend, probably tightly, that some of these victories were accomplished in spite of the Tsar. Ivan was feverishly Orthodox in religion (one ambassador reports that ""the whole court and Ivan were continually crossing themselves and gazing at ikons""), paranoid (he established a palace guard which tortured and killed at a flicker of suspicion), given to frothing rages (he killed his own son with one blow), cowardly in battle, vain and pretentious. He was also wildly capricious -- his spurious ""abdications"" and his love affair with England (the reports of English ambassadors and tradesmen are the most illuminating of the contemporary commentary) indicate considerable madness in his methods. Much attention is given the street scenes of Moscow, dreadful massacres, and the dramatic incongruities of the court. Mr. Romanoff is none other than the grandnephew of Nicholas II and it is possible that the great mass of excellent 16th century material and very Russian ambiance is his contribution. Hardly a cool historical overview, but grandly conceived with imperial sweep and torch-lit pageantry.