cover image The Romanovs: 1613–1918

The Romanovs: 1613–1918

Simon Sebag Montefiore. Knopf, $35 (816p) ISBN 978-0-307-26652-1

Montefiore (Jerusalem: The Biography), a popular novelist and historian of Russia, describes this extensive account of the rise and fall of the Romanov dynasty as a “blood-spattered, gold-plated, diamond-studded, swash-buckled, bodice-ripping, and star-crossed... chronicle[s] of fathers and sons, megalomaniacs, monsters, and saints.” But it also reveals the author’s imaginative gift for storytelling and research acumen. From the Romanov dynasty’s inauspicious beginnings in a remote monastery to its violent end in a provincial basement, the family held the Russian crown for just over three centuries, dramatically expanding Russia’s borders and laying the groundwork for what would become the U.S.S.R. and the modern Russian Federation. Montefiore addresses questions of great import as well as more prosaic but equally illuminating details of life in the Romanov regime, examining, for instance, how Catherine the Great went from being “a regicidal, uxoricidal German usurper” to becoming one of Russia’s most successful rulers and “the darling of the philosophes.” Echoes of history resonate through the pages and shed light on the ruthless and autocratic tendencies that have remained salient elements of Russian politics. Montefiore’s compassionate and incisive portraits of the Romanov rulers and their retinues, his liberal usage of contemporary diaries and correspondence, and his flair for the dramatic produce a narrative that effortlessly holds the reader’s interest and attention despite its imposing length. (May)