August 8, 2014
Secret Lives of the Tsars (book review)
Michael Farquhar is known for his rollicking histories of royalty at its most...well, let's just say its most human. His latest book, Secret Lives of the Tsars, tackles the history of the Romanov dynasty in Imperial Russia. He begins with Ivan V and Peter I in the 1680s, and proceeds ruler by ruler all the way to the family's doomed end during World War One.
I always enjoy Farquhar's books, and this one was no exception. While the writing style at first appears almost gossipy, there is strong history and research underneath. Extensive footnotes and bibliographies make this an excellent jumping off place for the history of the Russian rulers. Russian history is not of of the subjects I typically read about, though of course I was familiar with the brutal outcome of Nicholas II and Alexandra and their 5 children in the Bolshevik Revolution. Farquhar writes in the way you wish history textbooks were written.
Yes, there is a lot of sex, violence and general bad behavior. In between the lightly treated episodes of debauchery though, is an excellent overview of the struggles this dynasty went though to stay on the throne. Alexander III faced seven assassination attempts and could bend metal with his bare hands. Peter the Great raised a commoner to be his wife (Catherine I) who ruled after his death on her own. These are the kind of details that often get lost in a serious history, but those are the things that people respond to and remember.
There was far more to the end of the Romanov dynasty than just the Bolsheviks, and Farquhar covers the reign of Nicolas II in great detail. Sadly, his time on the throne had very few lighthearted moments, and despite knowing the details of the family's cruel fate, it was heart wrenching to read all the same. It was a tough to have to end the book in such a sad and emotional way, that I almost wished he could have rearranged the chapters.
The best history books are the ones that make you anxious to read more, and Farquhar never disappoints in that respect. I'm working my way through the bibliography as we speak.
An ARC of this title was provided through NetGalley for review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own. Some links are affiliate links. Thanks for supporting Hearth and Homefront!