(K. Brent Tomer),
The Romanovs: 1613-1918. By Simon Sebag Montefiore. Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 745 pages; £25. To be published in America by Knopf in May.
RULING Russia was not a tempting prospect in 1613, when the first Romanov reluctantly took the throne. Over the next three centuries the shrunken, war-torn principality of Muscovy became a colossal empire, though at a huge cost to the Romanovs’ long-suffering subjects—and to the family itself, where the currencies of dynastic politics included murder, torture and betrayal (sexual and otherwise), as well as habitual cruelty.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s story starts with the miserable, melancholic Michael, dragged to the smouldering ruins of the Kremlin by feuding boyars who were desperate for unity in the face of defeat by mighty Poland. It features the greats: Peter, manically debauched, and Catherine, the “regicidal, uxoricidal German usurper”; and also dismal failures such as Alexander III, who ruled Russia as a “curmudgeonly landowner”. It concludes with the pathetic Nicholas II, the last tsar, deposed and hurriedly murdered alongside his wife and children (pictured)…Continue reading