“There is no greater aphrodisiac like victory” – S.S. Montefiore
Disclaimer: I very much enjoy learning about history, and I am fascinated by European royalty.
Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs is one of the most fascinating and informative books that I have read. The Romanovs is not only about the history of the Romanov dynasty, but it is also a history book about Europe as a whole in which the reader also gets a glimpse of what America was going through at specific moments in time. The reader goes through the last four centuries in 657 pages and ends up wanting to know more, not only about the Romanovs, but also about other personalities and societal evolution.
I suggest reading The Romanovs with a computer at hand to be able to google further information about some characters, events, and places mentioned by Montefiore – And who knows, you might end up buying a ticket to St. Petersburg, Moscow, or Crimea to see first hand the places wonderfully described in the book!
Despite the autocracy, the horrendous anti-semitism, and ruthless decision-making that characterized the Romanovs through generations, I tried to choose one favorite character from the Romanov family, and I could not stick to one. But I would say that I am torn between Catherine the Great (r. 1762 – 1796), who “rose each morning at six, made her own coffee before her servants got up, and start to work” in modernizing her country; Alexander I (r. 1801 – 1825), who is described in the book as “a pragmatist with a personality well meaning by nature” and was the first to “openly criticize serfdom”; and Alexander II (r. 1855 – 1881) who brought some positive changes to Russian society during his reign, including the liberalization of the press and universities.
I can, however, pick the one I liked the least: the self-centered arrogant Alexandra “Alix” Fyodorovna, the last Empress of Russia (r. 1894 – 1917), and for me, the one who made it easier for the revolutionaries. My second least favorite character is her husband, Nicholas II (r. 1894 – 1917), who according to Montefiore, once told a journalist that they are “always writing about public opinion, but we do not have public opinion in Russia”.
Montefiore finishes up this book by smoothly transitioning from the Russian Tsars’ era to current events in such a way that for a second – only for a second – the reader may find some sense in all the craziness currently taking place in the Old Continent and the Middle East.