In This Review

The Romanovs: 1613–1918
The Romanovs: 1613–1918
By Simon Sebag Montefiore
Knopf, 2016, 784 pp

This pulsing, soaring history tells the story of the Romanovs, not of Russia under the Romanovs. Rather than write a political history of the country, Montefiore traces in exquisite detail the mind-bending story of the 20 tsars and tsarinas who for three centuries ruled Russia: how they got, used, and lost power. And what a story it is. Montefiore consulted an immense number of sources, many of them original, to do what he does best: capture the tumultuous, often grotesque politics that dominated the inner sanctum of power while vividly bringing to life the people who inhabited it. He is awed by (and awes the reader with) the nearly unbelievable mixture of traits that defined the Romanovs. Cruel, libidinous, and crude almost beyond description, they were also molders of empire and skillful power brokers, holding Russia together through war, revolution, and the chaos of the country’s often brutal transformations. Once drawn into the drama of court intrigue—the plotting, the power struggles, the eccentricities, the infidelities, the stomach-turning orgies of retribution, and the bizarre bacchanalias at which the early tsars entertained themselves—the reader will have trouble putting down this hefty volume.