cover image ALEXANDRA: The Last Tsarina

ALEXANDRA: The Last Tsarina

Carolly Erickson, . . St. Martin's, $27.95 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-312-25307-3

The wife of Nicholas III, the tsar who was overthrown in 1917 by the Russian Revolution, Alexandra has long been viewed by Russian historians as narrow-minded, reactionary and hysterical. But in this entertaining, if not completely convincing, account, Erickson (Bloody Mary) paints a sympathetic portrait of the German-born empress. Erickson humanizes the granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria by detailing the romance between the two young cousins, "Alix" and "Nicky." One of the book's strengths is its emphasis on the private life of the court. Erickson also draws attention to the difficulties the husband and wife faced as they struggled to produce a male heir, first having three daughters before they sired the hemophiliac Alexis. "Unless help came from a divine source," Erickson writes, "he would surely succumb to one of the terrible attacks of bleeding." Though the rest of the story is familiar—Alexis's illness led the family to an increasing fascination with the occult and the spiritual healer Rasputin—this accomplished historical biographer tells it with style and suspense. At times, Erickson sacrifices historical accuracy for drama, e.g., when she attempts to elicit sympathy by saying that Alexandra looked middle-aged at 33, although that was not rare for a mother of four in pre-revolutionary Russia. But small glitches aside, Erickson's popular biography will satisfy readers seeking the scoop on Russia's last empress. (Sept.)