THE ROMANOVS: Autocrats of All the Russias by W. Bruce Lincoln

THE ROMANOVS: Autocrats of All the Russias

Age Range: 1825 - 1917
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Professor Lincoln (History, Northern minois) has written a general account of Romanov rule of Russia (1613-1917) that's different, at least, from other works extant--but not in ways that will commend it, for all its 850 pages, to either the curious or the serious reader. Despite the presence of Peter I, Catherine II, and other all-time spellbinders, much of the book is plain boring--the consequence of Lincoln's pronounced limitations as a writer and interpreter (""Theirs is a tale of glory and pathos, of heroism and cowardice, of victory and defeat""). Until the last Romanovs, there is no dominant, continuous narrative--and no integrated history of an era or reign. Peter, for a prime instance, passes from childhood (female pampering, military play) to adolescence (""public debauchery"" and ""public blasphemy"") to adulthood (the journey to the West, the de-bearding and de-robing, the massacre of the streltsy, the defeat of the Swedes, the building of St. Petersburg, etc., etc.) and to his death in 32 pages. There follow brief accounts of the reigns--and personal habits--of his seven 17th-century successors (the last, of course, being the also-great Catherine); and then comes Peter's building of St. Petersburg (plus the contributions of his successors), cultural developments during his time (and theirs), and his (and their) conduct of foreign affairs. The result is repetition, fragmentation, and no dramatic movement. As for the substance of Russian/Romanov history, the emphases are paperback-rack conventional--debanchery and brutality, factionalism, Westernization, oppression and periodic revolts, imperial expansion. Lincoln does, true, play up the feminist angle--so we have sympathetic words for some spectacular libertines and miscreants whose excesses were found offensive, Lincoln writes up-to-dately, ""when committed by a woman."" He is less crude in treating of the (less spectacular) 19th-century Romanovs--and, as the author of a well-received biography of Nicholas II, of some use as a factual source. He also provides a continuous, unfragmanted account of ""Nicky and Sunny: The Last Romanovs""--which is a pallid substitute, however, for either Robert Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra (on the personalities and their relationships) or Edward Crankahaw's The Shadow of the Winter Palace (on Russian political history, 1825-1917). The book looks imposing--all that information!--but it reduces to very little of real value.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1981
Publisher: Dial