cover image Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

Douglas Smith. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (832p) ISBN 978-0-374-24084-4

In this monumental and soul-shaking biography, historian and translator Smith (Former People) demystifies the figure of Grigory Rasputin a century after his gruesome murder in 1916 at age 47. He portrays the Siberian peasant and Romanov family confidante as earthy, complex, and innocent of the worst claims against him: that he was a German spy, royal seducer, and de facto head of state. Smith relies on diaries, letters, police files, and memoirs to dispel long-held rumors about Rasputin’s relationship with Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. With a Dostoyevskian flair for noir and obsession, Smith exposes the base motivations behind Rasputin’s enemies—including Duma members, church fathers, noble families, government ministers, and heads of secret police—while being frank about his subject’s love of Madeira and women. Smith expertly handles the intricacies of the salacious scandals that enveloped the empire in anti-Rasputin hysteria and that eerily presaged the fall of the Romanovs in 1917. Displaying commendable detective work and a firm understanding of the Russian silver age and the synod, Smith articulates even the most obscure cultural nuances with fluidity, sometimes slowing the pace but never losing his focus on his worthy and mesmerizing subject. Smith’s depravity-laden history of turn-of-the-20th-century Russia hinges on his insightful readings of myth and motive, and their tragic consequences. (Nov.)