A lively work illustrating the personalities, sensuality, and steely wills of the long line of Russian rulers.
Master British biographer Montefiore (Jerusalem: The Biography, 2011, etc.) presents a staggeringly ambitious work of scholarship and temerity: taking on the Romanov rulers over their 300-year reign. He begins with the medieval Romanov boy aristocrat who was crowned Michael I of Muscovy in 1613—Ivan the Terrible hailed from the Rurikids dynasty and ruled in the mid-16th century—to the last czar, Michael II, the brother of Alexander II, who reigned for one day on March 1, 1917, before being forced by the Bolsheviks to abdicate like his older brother. Sticking close to personal records and primary archives, the author gives each of these 20-some rulers (and their spouses) roughly the same space, yet inevitably the last long-reigning czar, Nicolas II, becomes the most compelling and fully fleshed, especially as his wife, Alexandra, ultimately shared his throne, politics, and tragic fate during the Russian Revolution. In his masterly biographical portraits, Montefiore emphasizes what binds each of these Russian rulers, male or female: namely, the sense of an entitlement to “sacred autocracy” and of a “mystical mission” without being encumbered by the tempering “independent assemblies and civil institutions” that developed in Western nation-states. The author tosses in plenty of detail to fully bring to life each ruler. One of the most intriguing is the "freakishly tall," high-strung, hard-drinking, brilliantly industrious Peter the Great, who achieved an apogee of rule by military success and sheer drive, leaving his crown’s succession to his beloved wife, the capable former Lithuanian laundress. Also leaping from the page is Catherine the Great, the enlightened ruler who happened to come to power by the murder of the legitimate successor. The violence of jealously guarding power knows no bounds in this spirited account of sycophants and bedfellows.
A magisterial portrayal of these “megalomaniacs, monsters and saints” as eminently human and fallible.