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Monday, February 6, 2012

"Nicholas and Alexandra: In Intimate Account of the Last of the Romanovs and the Fall of Imperial Russia", by Robert K. Massie

584 pages, Atheneum, ISBN-13: 978-1122359351

When this book first appeared in 1967, nothing anything like it had ever existed before. There were the original emigré accounts, most of them written in the 1920's and 1930's, which contained personal memories of the last tsar and his family from many points of view. There were the other historical sources which gave, for example, descriptions of Russian and European society in the time of Nicholas II, along with depictions of the cataclysmic events of war, revolution and regicide.

The real brilliance of Robert Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra" lies in the fact that he was able to weave these far-flung historical narratives into an intensely readable and informative whole, in the process resurrecting the last tsar and his family from the murky mists of time which had made them all but vanish from the attention of the world. A whole Romanov industry exists today, producing several new books on this tragic family every year. The public's fascination with this field, however, must surely be traced back to Massie's astonishing "Nicholas and Alexandra." It is a work of nearly faultless scholarship, fidelity to historical sources, and deeply moving human interest. It is unthinkable that one should let one's life pass by and leave this book unread.

The way the book is written gives both the perspectives of a government in decay, complete with the political circumstances and key political figures of the time. However, the book often drifts off through the snow covered capital of St. Petersburg, to the ice cold walls of the Alexander Palace, where Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra became simply Nicky and Alix. In their private world at Tsarskoe Selo, the titles of "Their Imperial Majesties the Grand Duchess" and the Tsaravich simply became those names of children, from Olga to Alexis.

From these days at the Alexander Palace, Massie brought us up close to not only the Tsaravich's struggle with hemophilia, but also the struggle of a mother, Alexandra, whom had to bare it all, side by her son. In this came in the, in my opinion, intolerable abomination of a man the world knows as Rasputin. The way Massie wrote of the influence of Rasputin on her Majesty the Empress Alexandra, and hence the influence on government, which led to the collapse of Imperial Russia, one clearly sees the faults that are shown within the Empress and her ineptitude to run an empire. However, at the same time, one feels for her and pays special attention to her religious beliefs, which influence much of the final outcome of her greatest mistake.

Finally, Massie depicts the final collapse of Imperial Russia on a swift day. This eventually leads to the imprisonment and final execution of the last Tsar, Autocrat of All the Russians, and his family. The breathtaking detail and account of their murder is extremely unsettling. One may think that reading of simply a murder, one of many, is not so great a shock, yet, as one has read this book from the very beginning, one has gotten to know, personally, the Imperial family, and cannot help but pity them.

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