Sunday, May 11, 2014

Book Review: The Last Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky

For some reason, I'm fascinated by this period in Russia's history. I've seen several documentaries on Stalin, Tsar Nicholas II, and Rasputin. I read Helen Rappaport's book about the last days of the Romanov family. When this book popped up while I was browsing Amazon, I grabbed it.

Edvard Radzinsky is a Russian playwright and historian. He researched this book for 25 years. He gained access to formerly secret archives and eyewitnesses. This book traces the life of Nicholas Romanov, the last Tsar of Russia.

The book was originally written in Russian, and masterfully translated into English.


In my analysis, Nicholas was not the right man for the job. His father was a very strong willed man. Nicholas was meek. He never wanted to be Tsar, and tried to abdicate but was refused. He reluctantly took the throne.

He was surrounded by corruption. His heir had hemophilia, the result of massive inbreeding among the royal families of Europe. They kept this hemophilia a state secret. For some reason, Rasputin could heal the heir, and Rasputin hanging around the royal family caused a loss of confidence in the Tsar and led to his downfall.

During most of the war against his family member Kaiser Wilhelm, the Tsar spent time at the front. I can't quite figure out why. He had no real military abilities. He wasn't any kind of tactical genius. He was mostly avoiding the controversy back in Petrograd, which is what they were calling St. Petersburg at the time.

Nicholas made a lot of stupid mistakes. When the provisional government demanded his abdication, he granted it. But the provisional government was really shaky and soon overcome by the Bolsheviks which led to a civil war. The Tsar did not ask for any special protection for his family, which was soon arrested by the government. The family was arrested before he even came back from the front after abdicating the throne. Little more than a year later, they were executed by the Bolsheviks.

In my analysis, Nicholas should have said he would abdicate after a transition plan was created and carried out so a stable government could be set up. But it doesn't seem like he had any experience or knowledge in how to carry that out. Under his reign, the people were demanding a constitution, but he didn't feel ready. A congress, the Duma, was stood and and taken down several times under his reign. He also should have demanded protection or expatriation for his family rather than assume they could walk away.

I doubt the author has ever heard of Aaron Cleary, but he does a masterful job pointing out just how worthless many of the Bolshevik revolutionaries truly were as human beings. They were criminals, thugs, and parasites. Most people who threw their hats in with them ended up being consumed by them. Many of the conspirators in the Tsar's murder were in turn murdered after Stalin took power.

An interesting anecdote in the book is how Lenin himself was robbed by highwaymen on his way to Moscow. This was the society he created. You reap what you sow.

The author uses the Tsar and his family's journal entries as well as the journals of their associates and enemies and eyewitness accounts. He analyzes the motives of some of the players involved, and some of the (what we would now call) "conspiracy theories" surrounding the events. Apparently, not all of the family were killed. A woman claiming to be Anastasia surfaced in England, and apparently heir Alexi survived until 1979.

This book was fascinating and I look forward to the author's other works. I have his books on Rasputin and Stalin on my Kindle and I'm considering his book on Alexander II, Nicholas' grandfather.

You can buy The Last Tsar here.


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