Review: The Romanovs 1613-1918 – Simon Sebag Montefiore

I vividly remember two tragedies in history that held my fascination when I was younger.

One, as with any other child brought up in the 90’s, was the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

The other was the untimely end of the Romanov dynasty in 1918.

Yes, this later fascination was first brought to my attention by the 1997 animated movie Anastasia, but the history of the Romanov dynasty has nevertheless held my attention all these years later.

As such, when I found out that a comprehensive history was being published last year I knew I had to pick it up.

While I have read and reviewed Simon Sebag Montefiore’s works previously on The Paperback Pilgrim, The Romanovs: 1613-1918 is the first non-fiction work I’ve picked up by him.

Was my second foray into the writing of Montefiore more successful than the last? Keep on reading to find out my thoughts and opinions.

The Book

The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?

This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy and Pushkin, to Bismarck, Lincoln, Queen Victoria and Lenin.

The Review

This 600-page monster is a commitment.

Sprawling 305 years, Montefiore outlines the 18 tsars, tsarinas, emperors, and empresses that made up this powerful Russian family.

Each chapter is prefaced by a ‘cast list’ which I found helpful given that, like the Brits and French, many of the key players share the same names.

The House of Romanov family tree and illustrations were also helpful for me, and I was grateful for their inclusion.

Because this book is so detailed it does drag in certain places and with certain Tsar(ina), but understanding each person separately allowed me to grasp the dynasty as a whole and how it could end so tragically in 1918.

I enjoyed the inclusion of diary entries, when they were available, as it made it seem like I was reading about people rather than figures in a textbook.

Also, the women of the dynasty were pretty spectacular in their rights, and their inclusion has made me want to pick up further readings on Elizabeth I, Catherine II, and Nicholas II’s daughters.

Espionage, murder, sex, torture, and war are all included in The Romanovs: 1613-1918, which makes it one of the most intriguing non-fiction reads I have had the pleasure of diving into this year.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. 

Purchase Links

Knopf | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indigo

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