Sidney Harcave, who has a two-volume history of Russia to his credit, here records the reign of the Romanovs, their rise and fall, from the ""zenith of distinction"" accorded Alexander II when he stood in Paris as the benevolent protector of European civilization to the disposition of Nicholas II and the end of czardom. He follows each sovereign as he struggled with the ""burden of rule"" variously from the stance of retrenchment or reform: Alexander I neglected domestic needs for eminence abroad: Nicholas I believed in the climination of serfdom but his reign was characterized by ""orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality""; Alexander II emancipated the serfs and reformed the military services but still was assassinated by the People's Will: his son Alexander III believed in conservatism in all things, the retainment of old traditions and ways as long as possible. The doomed Nicholas II came to the throne unprepared, his education as ruler neglected, believing that his father had bequeathed him a well ordered realm. Harcave, in the larger context of the Romanov/Russian history, does not consider Rasputin so important a factor in the fate of the last Romanovs as did Massie, (Nicholas & Alexandra) says he served Alix as a reflector. When Nicholas insisted on going off to war. ""Rasputin did not rule Russia. Alexandra did not rule Russia, in fact no one ruled Russia that was the real tragedy."" An overview with sufficient specific information to reward the serious lay reader and perspective to ensure a sound reputation.