“It was hard to be a tsar. Russia is not an easy country to rule. Twenty sovereigns of the Romanov dynasty reigned for 304 years, from 1613 until tsardom’s destruction. by the revolution in 1917″ The Romanovs were actually the most spectacularly successful empire builders since the Mongols” ,
So begins an epic 300 year biographical history of the Romanov family, the most successful dynasty of royalty in modern times which culminated in their bloody deaths during the Russian Revolution. Before this, they ruled a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries and then lost it all in the most bloody and spectacular fashion.
Montefiore’s way of weaving the narrative and a cast of thousands into this novel paints the picture of Russian royalty along with a cast of literally thousands of courtesans, revolutionaries, poets, men of the cloth, adventurers. All of these people end up being fully blood-thirsty, murderous, decadent and ridiculously evil towards each other.
This epic tale can get very confusing at times. Therefore there’s a cast list at the start of each chapter to explain the various people and their roles in the bigger picture.
I found this book to be so unbelievably detailed, well researched and it rockets on at an exhilaratingly fast pace through decades, countless senseless slaughters, genocides and rapes. It’s truly remarkable how wild and murderous Russia was for many centuries.
My main reason for picking up this book was that I love Tolstoy and Chekhov’s epic sweeping novels. I was half expecting this weighty tome of a history book to be at least to some degree peppered with some romance, love stories and something subtle and sensitive in the same way as these novels.
Although the reality of life in Russia (at least how Russia is depicted by Montefiore) is completely different from the Russia in fiction.
To be completely honest, I didn’t like it for this reason. I had heard from various people that Russia was a wild, unpredictable and obscenely violent place and this history book definitely bears that theory out.
Russia’s aristocracy of tsars, tsarinas and the whole cast of characters in the imperial court were driven forward by a desire for absolute power and ambition of autocratic, ruthless rulers.
I found the endless depictions of senseless violence hard to deal with and reconcile with my gentle and sensitive view of Russia which I had gained from reading Tolstoy and Chekhov.
If this book was turned into a TV series it would be not even be rated R. The Romanovs would be too full on even for that, and would be banned and reside somewhere in the dark web!
Give me a lot of sex, romance and intrigue that’s great. But endless detailed descriptions of how Tsars ordered the violent killing of children and rape of women, and how this is not fiction but fact and it becomes shocking, revolting and just plain distasteful.
Perhaps I am a prude in the way of not liking violence. Although this book has compounded an idea in my mind that Russia and its history is just insane and it was built on the rule of insane people who are far from rational. It’s therefore easy to see why Russia has the issues it has in modern times when it was built on such blatantly evil precepts.
Little known fact: Prince Phillip is the great grandson of Tsar Nicholas I, meaning that all the living British royals including all future kings are queens are effectively Romanovs.
The scholarship and research that went into this book is mind-blowing. However, I hated the graphic violence in this book and how it never abated even for a moment, for this reason I give it 1*/5
6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore”
So perhaps a good read for people more able to deal with the ongoing violence? I am interested in the subject but might pass on this. I’m looking at a book on rasputin at the moment, might pick it up
Yes…its worth the read if you can get past that, although there is little else but senseless violence. The Rasputin part was very interesting Im sure you will enjoy that book.
The Romanovs were angels compared To Lenin and those who came after him, but horror and sensationalism sells well and publishers just care about profits.
Yes…I agree, this book did have a touch of the Hollywood blockbuster action film to it.
On my reading list. Here is another one for you called ‘The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters’ by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger. Ok, not quite royalty, but still a great read.
Oh wow! I think I will love this book The fabulous Bouvier sisters. They are like American royalty is a way Jackie O and JFK. I don’t know much about her sister but they did seem to live very full and scandalous lives the two of them, according to an article I found. I am going to order this one and let you know how I go with it 🙂