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Book Nook: The Romanovs 1613-1918, by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore has just published a history book that is a must read. He's also a fabulous person to interview. Here's my review that just ran in the Cox Ohio newspapers:


Over the years that I have been paying attention I have noticed that women tend to read mostly fiction. Men, if they read any books at all, frequently prefer non-fiction. At least that is what I have been observing.

Fortunately there are some books that possess a wider appeal. I'm thinking about those works of history that are written about historical periods that are so fascinating that even fiction lovers find them to be thoroughly enthralling. Simon Sebag Montefiore's monumental history of the Romanov family which ruled Russia from 1613 until 1918 is one superb example of this kind of book.

Readers might have a passing familiarity with some of the Romanovs. Have you heard of Peter the Great? Catherine the Great? What about Nicholas and Alexandra, the last of the Romanovs? Prepare to expand upon what you know about those Russian rulers. In "The Romanovs 1613-1918" Simon Sebag Montefiore will surely collapse some notions you might have had about them.

This enormous book delves in to the lives and excesses of every single Romanov from the most famous ones to those that barely made a blip in the historical record. Montefiore obtained access to historical archives that had not been available previously. These all powerful rulers come alive again on the pages. We are able to appreciate that some of them were geniuses. Others were monsters. Some were brilliant and also incredibly cruel.

Peter I (the Great) was the tsar and emperor of Russia from 1682 to 1725.  As ruler he proved himself to be great in many ways. Peter was a towering physical specimen. He turned Russia into an empire. His armies conquered the north all the way to the Baltic Sea. Peter's assertion of his absolute power often resulted in acts of sadism and mass slaughter.

Catherine the Great married in to the family. She was from an obscure little kingdom in what is now Germany. Catherine expanded her empire south into Ukraine and Crimea. The love letters that Catherine and her consort Potemkin exchanged over the years provide an extraordinary document of their mutual genius and unusual relationship.

One Romanov who has gotten a bad rap was Alexander I. This first Alexander was certainly another military mastermind - he was instrumental in defeating Napolean. During the Napoleanic Wars Russia was invaded and Moscow was set afire. Alexander was undeterred. His armies fought back and eventually marched right into Paris in triumph.

Then there's Nicholas and Alexandra. Did you think these were nice people who spent their days worrying about their son who suffered from hemophilia? Montefiore paints a shocking picture of these last Romanovs. Their own words reveal just how vicious and bloodthirsty they were. Nicholas was clueless-Alexandra was likely insane.

Modern Russia under Vladimir Putin is in expansionist mode again. This book will help readers to comprehend why this is happening

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