Biography of Tsar Nicholas II providing a portrait of the monarch and detailed account of his last days and assassination. The execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the hands of revolutionaries in 1918 is one of the pivotal events of the 20th century, an event that brought the 300-year rule of the House of Romanov to a brutal and tragic end and set the tone for the Stalinist atrocities that would follow. The truth behind these murders remained long buried under more than seventy years of myth, legend, and speculation. Then, in a sensational biography that could not have been written before glasnost, noted Russian historian Edvard Radzinsky unearthed solutions to many of the questions that had remained unanswered since the terrible events in Ekaterinburg on the night of July 16-17, 1918. Mining sources long unavailable--including firsthand accounts of the slaying--he creates both a fascinating portrait of the monarch and a minute-by-minute account of his terrifying last days. Included is documentation linking the order of execution directly to Lenin, as well as the suggestion that two family members may have survived the ordeal. Included, too, is the testimony of ordinary Russians who at last felt free to contribute their own recollections, documents, and handed-down secrets. Radzinsky weaves together scores of firsthand accounts into a haunting, epic narrative. The Last Tsar is an important and momentous work, one that will stand as the definitive account of the terrible last days of one of Europe's greatest dynasties.--Adapted from dust jacket.
Radzinsky is a playwright; his book comes out not in a general tone most often taken by historians -- it is very readable. Thank God there was a family tree showing both Nicholas & Alexandra's families in the front cover; I would have been totally lost without it. As it was, I probably should have xeroxed it instead of flipping back to it time after time, because I really needed it. I think it probably could have also used a map.
While the book has a few problems, overall it was very well done & a very welcome addition to my history library.
The Soviet state was highly secretive and paranoid, and the details of the tsar’s death had been buried. So the public record on the execution was skeletal: the world knew the family had been killed, but that was about it. Mr. Radzinsky builds the story slowly, so that even on the last pages of this 400-page book the reader still learns new, fascinating details.
I was intrigued with the Soviet Union when I was younger. I spent six weeks in 1979 traveling through the western part of Russia; I could speak Russian at the time. I have studied Russian and Soviet history, but my attention when I read about the Russian revolution was always on the Bolsheviks. I had never read about this event from the tsar’s point of view.
What becomes clear is that the tsar and his wife were detached from reality. They traveled between their palaces, took trips on the royal yacht, and held balls. They lived in a dream world that they thought would never end, even though the warnings couldn’t have been clearer. The French Revolution was an obvious cautionary tale, but closer to home, Nicholas’ grandfather had been assassinated in 1881, and in 1905 there was a mini-Russian revolution. But because Nicholas and Alexandra were so oblivious in their dream world, they never stopped fighting the prospect of a constitution and a constituent assembly.
The tsaritsa was the worst. All she could think of was getting her son on the throne. The disaster of her relationship with Rasputin was her desperate attempt to keep the hemophiliac heir well enough to rule one day. In addition, she wanted him to have absolute power.
When the tsar and his family were arrested and sent to Siberia (Tobolsk), it’s hard to believe how thoroughly they were abandoned. It appears that no one tried to rescue them. It also seems that they could have escaped and didn’t, in part because there was no one who cared enough about them to help, and also because the tsar felt he belonged to Russia and couldn’t leave her. Not to mention their faith: God was on their side and whatever happened was His will.
If you’re interested in details about how the tsar lived you’ll have to look elsewhere. You also won’t learn much about the Soviet revolution—other than the fascinating detail that the Bolsheviks were close to losing power in 1918; they were almost defeated in the civil war that erupted after the Revolution. The executions took place a day or two before the White Russians took the town where the royal family had been held captive.
This isn’t an easy book, but if you like history it’s definitely worth the read.