Published in 1967, Nicholas and Alexandra tells the story of the last Tsar of Russia and his family and how they were sacrificed to the world’s war and their country’s revolution. Extensively researched and drawing heavily on letters written by Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, this is one of the best non-fiction books I have read.
Robert Massie’s interest in the Romanov family began with his research into the hemophilia that afflicted his own son as he wondered how others had dealt with the disease. Although by the time of Massie’s book hemophilia was in the category of diseases that could be effectively treated, in the early 20th century, this was not the case. The disease was well known 100 years ago, in fact, it was very well known within the royal family and was often referred to as "the royal disease". But as the only son, Alexei’s health was of paramount importance to his parents – especially to his mother who would risk everything (and lose it all) to ensure that the child inherited his father’s empire.
Revolutionary forces were already at work in Russia during the early 1900’s. And had genetic fate not intervened, perhaps Russia would have moved along the same lines as England to more of a constitutional monarchy. But fate could not act alone. It required something - or someone- to stir the pot. Enter Rasputin.
I vaguely remember hearing the name of Rasputin in some connection with the Imperial family and the Russian Revolution but I never knew what that connection was or how integral he was to the way the story played out. A kind of peasant mystic\monk with hypnotic eyes and a calming manner, Rasputin convinced Alexandra that he could work miracles and that without him, her son was doomed. His influence over her grew and as she stepped in to run the government while Nicholas was away during WWI, the country’s fate was sealed.
Of course it was not quite so simple as that and Massie does an excellent job of explaining the forces both within the country and those from the outside that lead to that fateful day in the basement of a house in Ekaterinburg where the family was killed in a shower of gunfire. Massie also spends some time on the nature of hemophilia as well as providing beautifully detailed accounts of the Russian court and of the daily lives of the Romanov family.
Massie writes in an easy to read style that I found engaging and entertaining and I learned a great deal about Russia’s history. He provides an extensive Epilogue which details what happened to many of the “supporting” characters in this sad tale of history and fate. In 1995 Massie wrote a follow up book to detail the events that had taken place after the family’s death and the search for the truth. I have that book and am looking forward to reading it.