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The Romanovs #3

Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty

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The story of the love that ended an empire.

In this commanding book, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Robert K. Massie sweeps readers back to the extraordinary world of Imperial Russia to tell the story of the Romanovs’ lives: Nicholas’s political naïveté, Alexandra’s obsession with the corrupt mystic Rasputin, and little Alexis’s brave struggle with hemophilia. Against a lavish backdrop of luxury and intrigue, Massie unfolds a powerful drama of passion and history—the story of a doomed empire and the death-marked royals who watched it crumble.

640 pages, Paperback

First published June 30, 1967

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About the author

Robert K. Massie

57 books1,474 followers
Robert Kinloch Massie was an American historian, writer, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, and a Rhodes Scholar.

Born in Versailles, Kentucky, Massie spent much of his youth there and in Nashville, Tennessee. He studied American history at Yale University and modern European history at Oxford University on his Rhodes Scholarship. Massie went to work as a journalist for Newsweek from 1959 to 1964 and then took a position at the Saturday Evening Post.

After he and his family left America for France, Massie wrote and published his breakthrough book, Nicholas and Alexandra, a biography of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, his wife, Alexandra of Hesse, and their family and cultural/political milieu. Massie's interest in the Tsar's family was triggered by the birth of his son, the Rev. Robert Kinloch Massie, who suffers from hemophilia, a hereditary disease that also afflicted the last Tsar's son, Alexei. In 1971, the book was the basis of an Academy Award–winning film of the same title. In 1995, in his book The Romanovs: The Final Chapter, Massie updated Nicholas and Alexandra with much newly discovered information.

In 1975, Robert Massie and his then-wife Suzanne chronicled their experiences as the parents of a hemophiliac child and the significant differences between the American and French healthcare systems in their jointly written book, Journey.

Massie won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Biography for Peter the Great: His Life and World. This book inspired a 1986 NBC mini-series that won three Emmy Awards, starring Maximilian Schell, Laurence Olivier and Vanessa Redgrave.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,457 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
936 reviews28.6k followers
July 9, 2019
"Nicholas asked for chairs so that his wife and son could sit while they waited. Yurovsky ordered three chairs brought and Alexandra took one. Nicholas took another, using his arm and shoulder to support Alexis, who lay back across the third chair. Behind their mother stood the four girls and Dr. Botkin, the valet Trupp, the cook Kharitonov and Demidova, the Empress's parlormaid. Demidova carried two pillows, one of which she placed in the chair behind the Empress's back. The other pillow she clutched tightly. Inside, sewed deep into the feathers, was a box containing a collection of the Imperial jewels. When all were assembled, Yurovsky reentered the room, followed by his entire Cheka squad carrying revolvers. He stepped forward and declared quickly, 'Your relations have tried to save you. They have failed and we must now shoot you...'"
- Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra

A monarchy falls. A revolution begins. A civil war is fought. A wall is built. A couple million die in gulags. And all because two people fell in love.

At least that's the story that Robert Massie is here to tell, in the sympathetic Nicholas and Alexandra. The couple, of course, is Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Empress Alexandra.

Nicholas II was a resoundingly mediocre man. He did not have the capacity for greatness, which he showed time and again. He led Russia from a great power into revolution, a long slide that saw the disastrous Russo-Japanese War, anti-semitic pogroms, labor riots, and a smashing defeat by the Germans in World War I (though they fared well against the Austrians!). He was such an odd paradox of a man, both humble and conceited; both aware of his shortcomings, and absolutely convinced that he should wield near-complete autocratic powers.

Alexandra Feodorovna, German-born, was his wife. She was quiet, distant, and private, which made her unpopular among the Russian court. She was also, and most tragically, a carrier of hemophilia. She passed this onto her son, Alexei, and then reached out to the mad monk Rasputin in a desperate attempt to heal him. In Robert Massie's telling, this event caused the downfall of the Romanovs: at the worst possible time, with a war being lost in the east, and workers rioting, and people clamoring for democratic representation, the Romanovs turned inward, focused solely on the fate of their fragile young son.

(Massie's own son also suffered from hemophilia, giving him an intimate connection to the doomed royal family. It is understandable, then, that Nicholas and Alexandra tends to give them the benefit of the doubt).

This is not literally true. There were many causes for the collapse of the Romanovs and Imperial Russia. But honing in on this makes for an excellent story.

Massie is a marvelous narrative historian. He is a believer in the "great man" theory of history, where historical events are shaped by personalities, rather than events. This makes him a target by more academically-minded (and less successful) writer-historians. But in terms of crafting popular histories with wide appeal, Massie has long been one of the best. His opening lines, for instance, just hook you with the near-mythic sweep of Russia itself:

From the Baltic city of St. Petersburg, built on a river marsh in a far northern corner of the empire, the Tsar ruled Russia. So immense were the Tsar's dominions that, as night began to fall along their western borders, day already was breaking on their Pacific coast. Between these distant frontiers lay a continent, one sixth of the land surface of the globe. Through the depth of Russia's winters, millions of tall pine trees stood silent under heavy snows. In the summer, clusters of white-trunked birch trees rustled their silvery leaves in the slanting rays of the afternoon sun. Rivers, wide and flat, flowed peacefully through the grassy plains of European Russia toward a limitless southern horizon...

As I noted above, there are criticisms of Massie as a historian. But Imperial Russia is a subject on which he is well versed, having written a mammoth and well-received biography of Peter the Great (and later, after this book, a bio on Catherine the Great).

Massie employs a style that taps into the drama and emotion of his tale. Obviously, this causes some issues with objectivity and interpretation. It's almost as though he gets to know his characters so well, viewing them as so utterly human (as they were), that he is sometimes unable to judge them with cold-eyed clarity.

This is especially true here. It is clear that Massie respects the Romanov family and is especially forgiving of Nicholas II, who he bends over backward to redeem. In Massie's view, Nicky did his best, and found himself unable to rise to a near-impossible task. This is a little hard to swallow in light of the pogroms that took place during his administration, and his seeming indifference to the bloody squelching of labor riots. Nicholas, it has been said, would have made a find postal clerk. Perhaps it was impossible to maintain the absolute autocracy in an era of progress, industrialization, and rising democracies. But a cleverer man, less in thrall to his perceived prerogatives, might have been able to find the balance of a constitutional monarchy.

One of the shortcomings of Nicholas and Alexandra is its narrow focus on the royal couple at the expense of any wider context for the events that caused their fall. One could read this book and be forgiven for thinking it was all somehow Rasputin's fault. Certainly, he played a role, especially in getting Nicholas II to take command of the army, but the seeds of revolution had been planted long before; they just took time to grow. As I mentioned above, I love history books that pay attention to human agency in events. At the same time, I'm not so naive to believe that the cumulative effect of history doesn't sometimes overwhelm things. In other words, it didn't all come down to the Mad Monk.

Another problem, stemming from the first, is that Massie's approach greatly simplifies a complex series of events. While everything is going to hell in Russia, Massie stays focused on this adorable, beautiful, loving, close-knit family. The Romanovs are humanized and, by unintentional elision, the rest of Russia is turned monstrous. There is little time spent developing the setting of the Russian Revolution - the millions of peasants who starved or suffered stunted lives while the Romanovs visited their estates or frolicked on their yacht.

This book trades the horrors of the multitude for a detailed look at the death of a single family. At the end, it's almost as if Massie has to look away, for his telling of their execution is brief and fairly nondescript (especially compared to his fascination with the knout in Peter the Great). Massie goes so far as to censor contemporary accounts, which is insulting. (Hey, it's okay to tell us that one of the executioners touched the dead Alexandra's breasts. We're all adults here).

For whatever reason, I've found the men and women of the World War I era to be the most fascinatingly human of any I've encountered in my historical reading. From the widowed bird watcher Edward Grey, who backed England into war; to the crippled Kaiser Wilhelm II, who loved playing soldier/sailor; to Nicholas II, who really just wanted to sit on the couch and read in the presence of his family, these are all beguilingly normal people tasked with extraordinarily abnormal responsibilities. It's amazing how many of the tragedies of that time came because these men were simply not commensurate with the challenges they were charged with handling.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
June 20, 2013

On completion: I very highly recommend this book to those interested in Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, to anyone interested in Russian history, to those interested in the beginning of Bolshevism in Russia and also to those who enjoy historical biographies written by talented authors. Massie can write. He knows his subject, in and out, backward and forward. There are detailed notes to every chapter. You never have to doubt the accuracy of that which you are reading. He analyzes all the possibilities. Moreover, he does all this without ever boring the reader. I feel I truly understand who Nicholas, Alexandra and Alexis were as people. I come away with an understand of who these individuals really were. No other books I have read has ever done this to wonderfully. The book included photos and a family tree.

You do have to be awake to read the book :0). At one point there I was getting kind of tired..... Beyond praising the book, I praise the author. Massie has written a book on Peter the Great, Peter the Great: His Life and World, and it is said he will come out with a book on Catherine the Great in November, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman. I want to read both very, very much. I find none of them available in Kindle, which is quite a disappointment......but I haven't given up searching.

If you like crime novel, read this instead! This is the real thing.

Oh, one more thing, you must read this book to learn about Rasputin and hemophilia! And if there is a moral to the book, it is tell people what is going on. If you don't, others will dream up a bunch of incorrect explanations.

Through page 358: This book gives an engaging and very clear description of the time period leading up to WW1. The author explains in both in broad terms and then with interesting details. I must say very clearly that this book is detailed, and it is a book of history. There are sections where I am fatigued by military strategies and battles. To say this doesn't happen would be untrue. Or maybe I am just plain tired and should go to bed.....

Through page 161: The research is thorough and impeccable. There are tons of details, but never do I feel swamped. I believe some sections will appeal to one reader and others to another. None is boring. I was less drawn to the detailed analysis of the 1905 Revolution, but then the next chapter switched to life at Tsarskoe Selo, and I was enchanted. The Catherine and Alexander Palaces situated on the grounds, although diametrically different, are both beautifully described. Then the text goes on to describe the minute characteristics of the five children and Alexandra. You cannot leave this chapter without feeling immersed into each one's personal traits. All is documented and accurately portrayed. And terribly interesting.

Through Part One, page 114: The book details the political alliances and military occurrences taking place at the beginning of the 20th century. To enjoy this book you must be interested in history. The Russian war against Japan, the French, English and German alliances, Kaiser William II's maneuvering all of this is discussed.

Throgh: page 77: If you are curious about the last Tsar of Russia, read this book. It will not disappoint. You are given a thorough understanding of what shaped Nicholas and Alexandra. Childhood experiences are always life-determining, and here they are laid out in a clear and interesting manner. You understand why Alexandra is shy, why she feels a kinship with the Russian people, the serfs freed by Alexander II, rather than the elite. You come to understand why, in turn, she was not welcomed by the Russian elite, at least not now in the beginning, immediately after her marriage with Nicholas. You come to understand the tension that arose between her and the Empress Dowager. Alexandra's German mother died when she was six. She was primarily raised by her grandmother, Queen Victoria. She and Nicholas were married only one week after the funeral of Nicholas' father. His death was unexpected. He was only 49! She was forced to convert to the Russian Orthodox Church from the Lutheran faith, a prerequisite for the marriage. She was totally unprepared for what lay before her. And the same was true for Nicholas. It was a marriage of love, they chose each other, and they got their way. Of course there were several important leaders that approved!

Not only do we learn about Nicholas and Alexandra in a fascinating manner, but also other individuals. We learn of Lenin's (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov's)youth.

He was an excellent student in school, and when the other Ulyanov children brought their marks home and solemnly reported them to their parents, Volodya (as he was called at home) simply burst through the door and up the stairs, shouting "Excellent in everything!"(page 76)

His mother, Maria Blank, was a Volga German. Enough! If you find this fascinating I recommend the book to you.


Having just begun the book, I am blown over by the author's way with words. Wow, can Robert Massie describe landscapes so you can see them, sparkle or huddle in the cold. I am not going to tell you what the book is about. For that you can read the book description. Here follows a quote so you can taste the writing:

Despite the Mediterranean style, St. Petersburg was a northern city where the Arctic latitudes played odd tricks with light and time. Winter nights began early in the afternoon and lasted until the middle of the following morning. Icy winds and whistling snowstorms swept across the flat plain surrounding the city to lash the walls and the windows of the Renaissance palaces and freeze the Neva hard as steel. Over the baroque spires and the frozen canals danced the strange fires of the aurora borealis. Occasionally a brilliant day would break the gloomy monotony. The sky would turn a crystal blue and the snowflakes on the trees, rooftops and gilded domes would sparkle with sunlight so bright that the eye could not bear the dazzling glare. Winter was a great leveler. Tsar, priest and factory worker all layered themselves in clothing and upon coming in from the street, headed straight to the bubbling samovar for a glass of hot tea. (page 7)

Don't you want to be there and breathe in the cold crisp air? Doesn't the teas scorch your throat? For me, how a book is written is much more important than the plot line! This is beautiful writing, and the author wonderfully blends in history so you do not even know you are learning! I like this book
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
May 30, 2020
Nicholas & Alexandra is the tragic and compelling story of the last Tsar and his family by Robert K. Massie, this book was first published in 1968 and is an amazing and historically accurate account of the fall of the Romanovs and the collapse of Imperial Russia but is also The story of Nicholas a husband and father and a family who dealt with a child suffering from haemophilia.

The focus of this book is on the family but with an engrossing account of one of the century's most dramatic events in the background. So with this book you get the best of both worlds you get an accurate historical account of the collapse of Imperial Russia and an exquisite account of love and compassion and you are transported back to Russia in a time of the magnificent life of the court of St Petersburg the opulent palaces and the great balls.

It took me a long time to read this book but I found myself so engrossed in the story as the writing is magnificent and I felt that the author Massie transported me to Russia in a way that no writer has ever done before. I spent so much time checking out all the palace names on the computer and the people in the book that I was even thinking about the book when I was not reading it.

Most importantly I learned to much from this book, it is such an education.

I have had this book on my bookshelf for quite a while and had put off reading it until a friend picked it up one day and was amazed that I had not read it.

I loved this book and would rate it in my top 5 books of all times!! Now all I have to do is visit all the places I have read about in this book.
Profile Image for Micah Cummins.
206 reviews206 followers
August 29, 2023
Massie presents a fantastic view of the Romanov family in Nicholas and Alexandra. Not only the inner workings of Nicholas and Alexandra's relationship but the bigger picture elements of their family, such as the impact that Alexei's Hemophilia had on launching Rasputin into the national spotlight, giving him access to the Imperial family few others had. There are several chapters dedicated singularly to the explanation of Hemophilia which I found very helpful as my knowledge of the condition was very limited until reading this book. Massie intertwines many things with an excellent touch, showing not only the effect of Alexei's Hemophilia on his mother Alexandra but also the more widespread effect that it had on the country as a whole. The relationship between Alexandra and Rasputin is also given much attention and offers some very interesting insights. Overall I was impressed with this book, and would highly recommend it to those interested in the subject matter. Five stars.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews300 followers
July 11, 2018
A sweeping, tragic, impossibly romantic family saga; this is history so compulsively readable that I finished it in a single weekend. I knew, of course, how the story ends but I found myself caring so much that I longed to see history re-written. I found myself wishing, hoping against hope, that it would not end that way.

Theirs was a true love-match though it seemed an unlikely one to Russian high society which judged the young Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstead as “badly dressed, an awkward dancer, atrocious French accent, a schoolgirl blush, too shy, too nervous, too arrogant….” His parents thought her not much of a catch and hoped for a grander alliance. But the young heir to the Russian throne, Tsarevich Nicholas, fell for the shy princess with the red-gold hair and wrote in his diary in 1892: "I have loved her a long while and still deeper and stronger since 1889 when she spent six weeks in St. Petersburg."

Nicky would make the grand tour, style himself as a playboy, have a fling with a Russian ballet dancer, but in the end his first love would be his last and forever-enduring.

In the spring of 1894, Alix and Nicky were together again at a royal wedding in Coburg. Nicky had “wrung from his father permission to propose to Alix” but ran headlong into her reluctance to convert to Russian Orthodoxy. Alix’s grandmother, Queen Victoria, played matchmaker and “had a talk with the reluctant girl, taking the somewhat original tack that Orthodoxy was not really so very different from Lutheranism.”

Their wedding took place on November 16th, one week after the funeral of Nicky’s father, Alexander III. “The marriage that began that night remained unflawed for the rest of their lives. It was a Victorian marriage, outwardly serene and proper, but based on intensely passionate physical love.” The next morning Alix wrote in Nicholas’ diary “Never did I believe there could be such utter happiness in this world, such a feeling of unity between two mortal beings. I love you, those three words have my life in them.”

Over the next ten years, the Tsarina Alexandra gave birth to four daughters and finally in 1904 came the longed-for, prayed-for moment when a 300-round gun salute in St. Petersburg signaled the birth of a baby boy, Tsarevich Alexis, heir to the throne.

Within weeks the Tsar and Tsarina realized that Alexis had hemophilia, a revelation “that struck Alexandra with savage force."

“The Empress refused to surrender to fate. She talked incessantly of the ignorance of the physicians….She turned towards religion, and her prayers were tainted with a certain hysteria. The stage was ready for the appearance of a miracle worker…."--Grand Duke Alexander

“The illness of the Tsarevich cast its shadow over the whole of the concluding period of Tsar Nicholas II’s reign and alone can explain it. Without appearing to be, it was one of the main causes of his fall, for it made possible the phenomenon of Rasputin and resulted in the fatal isolation of the sovereigns who lived in a world apart, wholly absorbed in a tragic anxiety, which had to be concealed from all eyes"—Pierre Gillard, tutor of Tsarevich Alexis

“Without Rasputin, there could have been no Lenin”Alexander Kerensky

Read it for the romance, for the pageantry, for the vast and fascinating cast of characters; read it to marvel at the strange and terrible twists of fate that meant the death of millions, the destruction of an entire civilization; but even if you never read non-fiction don’t miss this book!

UPDATE 7/11/2018: Having finally read War and Peace I now understand why Princess Alix's "atrocious French accent" and German connections mattered.

Content rating PG: Some dark but only slightly graphic thematic material including assassination and war as well as quotes from contemporary gossips about what might be going on with Rasputin.
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,491 reviews2,722 followers
August 8, 2018
Nicholas added, "I shall maintain the principle of autocracy just as firmly and unflinchingly as it was preserved by my unforgettable dead father."

Gosh, this book! I read it with such a dual response: the political side of me condemned everything to do with the Tsar from his opulent lifestyle (the palaces! the yachts! the jewels!) to his stubborn refusal to allow any form of democratic representation to the 130 million Russians under his rule.

The plight of the Russian soldiers, especially, during WW1 is heinous: however much Nicholas might have wanted to provide leadership and support, the Russian army pitch cavalry charges with swords and bayonets against German field-guns and are literally mown down; they are in frontline trenches without gas-masks or steel helmets, without weapons and ammunition, while the Russian railroads are so antiquated that food and supplies can't get through to them. It's a surprise, really, that it took till October 1917 for the Tsar to be overthrown.

And yet... it's hard not to at least understand Nicholas and his empress, however foolish, however alienated from the realities of life, however misguided and yes, downright stubbornly aristocratic and elitist. This book gives a mostly fair account of their lives and the tumultuous history of Russia through to 1917. We need to bear in mind that this was published in 1967 so research has moved on especially with regard to both the manoeuvrings in the run-up to WW1 and in terms of recently opened Russian archives - but this is still utterly engrossing as 'popular' narrative history.

Massie is not unbiased and the fact that he, as he tells us in the foreword, is the father of a haemophiliac son creates an intimate and sympathetic connection between his view and his reading of historical events. He perhaps places too much importance on Alexei's illness, too much blame on Alexandra, too much emphasis on the role of Rasputin - important as all these elements undoubtedly are.

The narrative is detailed both in terms of family life and personalities, and the wider political events. There are times where Massie's material gets away from him somewhat so that we're introduced to an important figure and then the story is put on hold while we have a potted life history. The history of the Romanov dynasty, too, is oddly inserted at about 30% of the way through.

Nevertheless, this is a compelling and detailed account of the last of the Romanovs: as one of the revolutionary guards says so aptly at Ekaterinburg, 'I began to pity them. I pitied them as human beings.'
Profile Image for Negin.
629 reviews150 followers
March 3, 2019
This is the third biography that I’ve read by Robert K. Massie. He’s a fabulous writer and his books have a way of grabbing me from the get-go. I’ve been enjoying reading about Russian history, which I had been quite ignorant about until I started on his books.

I knew how this story was going to end and how tragic it would be. Massie is such a great writer, that I was engaged throughout. What I didn’t know is how frustrated I would get with certain key characters.

We have a son with hemophilia, a terrified mother, a cunning faith healer, and an unprepared, but oh, so kind-hearted Tsar, who drove me nuts as he would keep deferring to his wife on major issues. Nicholas was naïve and completely spineless. Alexandra was incredibly foolish and Nicholas should not have listened to her when it came to running the country. When I read those parts, honestly, I was about ready to pop. I had become so invested in all the characters and they felt like family. It was truly heartbreaking, not just for the Romanovs, but for countless others who did not deserve the evil monstrosities of living under the brutal communist regime.

Here is the Tsar with two of his children, Tatiana and Alexei, in the summer of 1916. He was such a family man and I simply love that.

“Unlike many a royal couple, Nicholas and Alexandra shared the same bed.”

"In the evening after supper, Nicholas often sat in the family drawing room reading aloud while his wife and daughters sewed or embroidered. His choice, said Anna Vyrubova, who spent many of these cozy evenings with the Imperial family, might be Tolstoy, Turgenev or his own favorite, Gogol. On the other hand, to please the ladies, it might be a fashionable English novel. Nicholas read equally well in Russian, English and French and he could manage in German and Danish.”

“Books were supplied by his private librarian, whose job it was to provide the Tsar each month with twenty of the best books from all countries. This collection was laid out on a table and Nicholas arranged them in order of preference; thereafter the Tsar’s valets saw to it that no one disarranged them until the end of the month. Sometimes, instead of reading, the family spent evenings pasting snapshots taken by the court photographers or by themselves into green leather albums stamped in gold with the Imperial monograph. Nicholas enjoyed supervising the placement and pasting of the photographs and insisted that the work be done with painstaking neatness.”

“The most famous room in the palace—for a time the most famous room in Russia—was the Empress’s mauve boudoir. Everything in it was mauve: curtains, carpet, pillows; even the furniture was mauve-and-white Hepplewhite. Masses of fresh white and purple lilacs, vases of roses and orchids and bowls of violets perfumed the air. Tables and shelves were cluttered with books, papers and porcelain and enamel knicknacks. In this room, Alexandra surrounded herself with mementoes of her family and her religion. The walls were covered with icons. Over her chaise-longue hung a picture of the Virgin Mary. A portrait of her mother, Princess Alice, looked down from another wall. On a table in a place of honor stood a large photograph of Queen Victoria. The only portrait in the room other than religious and family pictures was a portrait of Marie Antoinette.
In this cluttered, cozy room, surrounded by her treasured objects, Alexandra felt secure. Here, in the morning, she talked to her daughters, helping them choose their dresses and plan their schedules. It was to this room that Nicholas hurried to sit with his wife, sip tea, read the papers and discuss their children and their empire. They talked to each other in English, although Nicholas and all the children spoke Russian to each other. To Alexandra, Nicholas was always ‘Nicky.’ To him, she was ‘Alix’ or ‘Sunshine’ or ‘Sunny.’ Sometimes through the rooms of this private wing, a clear, musical whistle like the warbling song of a bird would sound. This was Nicholas’s way of summoning his wife. Early in her marriage, Alexandra, hearing the call, would blush red and drop whatever she was doing to hurry to him. Later, as his children grew up, Nicholas used it to call them, and the birdlike whistle became a familiar and regular sound in the Alexander Palace. Next to the mauve boudoir was the Empress’s dressing room, an array of closets for her gowns, shelves for her hats and trays for her jewels. Alexandra had six wardrobe maids, but her modesty severely limited their duties. No one ever saw the Empress Alexandra undressed or in her bath. She bathed herself, and when she was ready to have her hair arranged, she appeared in a Japanese kimono. Often it was Grand Duchess Tatiana who came to comb her mother’s hair and pile the long red-gold strands on top of her head. After the Empress was almost dressed, her maids were summoned to fasten buttons and clasp on jewelry. ‘Only rubies today,’ the Empress would say, or ‘Pearls and sapphires with this gown.’ She preferred pearls to all other jewels, and several ropes of pearls usually cascaded from her neck to her waist.”

Alexandra in the Mauve Room

All in all, this was a truly a captivating biography and I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in Russian history.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Russia, after all, has existed for a thousand years; the Soviet era lasted only seventy-four. The Romanov dynasty, which included such towering figures as Peter and Catherine the Great, had ruled for more than three centuries. It came to an end in brutal murders in a Siberian cellar, but many Russians never knew this had happened. Or how. Or why.”

“In his work habits, Nicholas was solitary. Unlike most monarchs and chiefs of state—unlike even his own wife—he had no private secretary. He preferred to do things for himself. On his desk he kept a large calendar of his daily appointments, scrupulously entered in his own hand. When official papers arrived, he opened them, read them, signed them and put them in envelopes himself.”

“With much the same sense of privacy, Nicholas disliked discussions of politics, especially in casual conversation. A new aide-de-camp, galloping at the side of the Tsar near Livadia on a morning ride, supposed that his duty was to amuse the Tsar with small talk. He chose politics as his subject. Nicholas replied reluctantly, and quickly switched the conversation to the weather, the mountain scenery, the horses and tennis. When the aide persisted, Nicholas put spurs to his horse and galloped ahead. This sense of privacy, along with an unwillingness to provoke personal unpleasantness, created perennial difficulty between the Tsar and his ministers. Ministers were appointed and dismissed directly by the crown. In theory, they were the servants of the Tsar, and he was free to give these posts to whomever he liked, to listen to or ignore a minister’s advice, and to hand down dismissals without explanation.”

“Nicholas never mastered the technique of forceful, efficient management of subordinates. He hated scenes and found it impossible to sternly criticize or dismiss a man to his face. If something was wrong, he preferred to give a minister a friendly reception, comment gently and shake hands warmly. Occasionally, after such an interview, the minister would return to his office, well pleased with himself, only to receive in the morning mail a letter regretfully asking for his resignation. Not unnaturally, these men complained that they had been deceived.”

“Nicholas received most visitors informally. Standing in front of his desk, he gestured them into an armchair, asked if they would like to smoke and lighted a cigarette. He was a careful listener, and although he often grasped the conclusion before his visitor had reached it, he never interrupted.”

“Her deep sorrow was war itself and the suffering it brought. Like so many others, she yearned that the suffering would have meaning: ‘I do wonder what will be after this great war is over. Will there be a reawakening and new birth in all—shall once more ideals exist, will people become more pure and poetic, or will they continue to be dry materialists? So many things one longs to know. But such terrible misery as the whole world has suffered must clean hearts and minds and purify the stagnant brains and sleeping souls. Oh, only to guide all wisely into the right and fruitful channel.’”

These are the Empress’s words:
“… One by one all earthly things slip away, houses and possessions ruined, friends vanished. One lives from day to day. But God is in all, and nature never changes. I can see all around me churches … and hills, the lovely world.”

Tsar Nicholas and his family

The Romanov sisters with their mother

Alexandra kissing her dog
Profile Image for Susan.
2,695 reviews594 followers
July 31, 2018
I read this biography many years ago and, when it appeared as a kindle deal of the day, a while ago, snapped it up to re-read. This was first published in 1967, when many of those, who witnessed the events of that period, were still alive – indeed, the young ballerina with whom Nicholas had a romance with, was an elderly lady in Paris at the time of publication. At that point, most of the books about that period concentrated on the Russian Revolution from the point of view of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. However, Robert Massie, having recently discovered that his eldest son had haemophilia, was inspired to put the Imperial Family at the centre of the story, in an inspired biography.

When Nicholas fell in love with Alix of Hesse, grand-daughter of Queen Victoria, he, set in motion events which resulted in the end of Romanov rule. Their romance was a true one; their marriage touching and Massie, without doubt, helps you have sympathy for the young Alix, who would become the Empress Alexandra, the ‘German Woman,’ the mother filled with guilt because of her son’s illness… Even despite the fact that her much longed-for young son, born after the birth of four daughters, had haemophilia, Alexandra was not made to be an Empress. Shy, socially awkward and prudish, she found the glittering, Russian Court difficult. Her reaction to expectations that she would lead the endless balls, parties, gossip and gaiety, was to withdraw. As such, she found herself disliked, not only by the people, but by the aristocracy. Meanwhile, Nicholas was unprepared to be Tsar and, although he would probably have made an excellent figurehead, as an autocrat, he was weak and indecisive.

Undoubtedly, the couple’s son, Alexei’s, illness, made the couple even more self-contained and secretive. With the Russian Tsar expected to be all powerful, they felt it would be a sign of weakness, and cause speculation about the throne, if anyone discovered the truth. When Alexandra discovered Rasputin, the peasant Holy Man, who she felt was the only person who could heal her son, she clung to him, despite almost everyone else feeling that he was damaging the country. When Nicholas took control of the army, during WWI, Alexandra began to interfere in politics – and Rasputin was always there, whispering in her ear; his influence distrusted and disliked.

This is a well researched, well written, and excellent account of that period. Massie brings all of the characters to life and re-creates the period, and places, well. I still think that this is one of the best, overall, biographies of this period that I have read – indeed, possibly, the best. Massie is sympathetic, but always honest about events. In a way, this is almost like reading a novel and, as you continue reading, you really hope for a different ending. Definitely a classic and a very moving read.

Profile Image for Brett C.
805 reviews181 followers
May 2, 2021
I liked the way the author put this together. The flow of the writing seemed like a story and a history lesson. The story of these two is written from their autocratic rise to their bloody demise. The author covers a lot of material related to the subject and gives relevant information without going into tangents.

There's a brief history of the Romanov dynasty, an abbreviated (yet helpful and comprehensible) synopsis of WWI and Russia's involvement, and other historical places/events/people.

The history of the Romanov's has sparked my curiosity to learn more about their history as this book deals with its end.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
979 reviews108 followers
April 4, 2013
Massie writes a moving portrait of Russia's last tsar and his family. Rich in detail about this period of Russian history, and the prominent figures of the time, this book reads like an epic novel. Well worth reading.
Profile Image for Christopher Saunders.
931 reviews861 followers
March 9, 2022
Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra is a sprawling, elegantly written portrait of Russia's last Tsar. Massie's prose is beautiful and his depth of research impressive, doing a beautiful job conjuring both the Tsar's court and the agonies of late Tsarist Russia, from the abortive revolutions and feeble attempts at reform to the disastrous wars with Russia and Germany. Inevitably much of the book has been superseded by 45 years of new evidence (Rasputin's murder story, most obviously) but this shouldn't be held against it too much; the sheer detail of Russian court life and political turmoil is staggering. Massie succeeds in making his title characters sympathetic, human and pitiable: Nicholas the well-meaning but inept monarch, Alexandra agonizing over her hemophiliac son and resenting distrust of her German birth by her subjects and her own family. Other figures from Count Witte to Rasputin and Lenin receive concise but affecting sketches. At the same time, though, this poses a problem: as evocative and detailed as Massie's narrative is, he romanticizes Nicholas far too much. Massie's sympathy comes from an earnest but misguided personal empathy: his son had hemophilia, Prince Alexei did, ergo Massie likes Nicholas. An odd way to personalize history, and one that obscures rather than affects understanding: little discussion of the Tsar's opposition to democratic reform (indeed, he's made out to be far more accepting of an independent Duma than history warrants), and his toxic antisemitism (which fueled pogroms and a notorious blood libel prosecution) is only mentioned in passing. Between the personal angle and our continued cultural obsession with royalty, perhaps Massie's approach isn't that shocking, but it does provide a major flaw in an otherwise highly readable book.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
Want to read
January 20, 2015
I was named after Nicholas and Alexandra's daughter Tatiana; my mother is kind of romantically inclined like that. My name was almost Yolanda or Sabrina, so I guess I should count myself lucky. Anyway, this book is one of the things that inspired my mom, and so I really do need to read it sometime. But in the meantime, I highly recommend that you read my friend Hana's review. She's brilliant and writes great reviews and inspires me to read more nonfiction.

Hana, you're Goodreads famous!

363 reviews65 followers
November 8, 2020
Best book, by far in 2020. The author's son also has hemophilia, just like the Heir did so he describes (in first hand knowledge) the terrible pain of this dreaded disease. The Empress racked with guilt about having passed the gene to the Heir which caused his pain, is alternately pitiful , brave and so ignorant about Rasputin. Rasputin's death is described in vivid detail and after being poisoned several times, shot and thrown in the river, he actually died from drowning and not the bullets or poison !!
So many weird parts of how the Romanovs lost control of Russia after ruling for 300 years.

Winston Churchill said it best" Russia --is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.
History buffs-this is your Nirvana.
Profile Image for Mackey.
1,073 reviews363 followers
January 25, 2021
I first read Nicholas and Alexandra when I was in school back in the 70s. The story itself, not THEIR story but this particular version of their story, has stayed with me all of these years. When I ran across and old (!) copy of the book in a used bookstore, I knew it was time for a re-read. Sadly, it didn't live up to my impressionable first opinons of the book, history and politics and life have taught me to be more jaded since then, but still it is an enjoyable and somewhat informative read.If you like historial fiction then I think you would like this version of the royal family and their tragedy.
Profile Image for Jaclyn.
167 reviews35 followers
June 26, 2008
Reading "Nicholas and Alexandra" was like watching a train wreck in progress... you knew where it was going, you knew how it had to end, yet you continued to stare, fascinated and horrified, hoping against hope that things might turn out differently, but of course they didn't. Massie's account is decidedly sympathetic to the Tsar and Tsaritsa, but their memories have been so dragged through the mud of history that I think it's only fair that they should have someone come down so emphatically on their side.

Fascinating historical account of the life and death of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia, and his wife Alexandra Federovna and their children, the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and the Tsarevich Alexei. The book opens with a description of life in Imperial Russia and quickly moves on to discuss the Tsarevich Nicholas's youth and marriage to Princess Alix of Hesse, who later became Alexandra Federovna, and his ascension to become "Tsar and Autocrat of all the Russias." The deck was stacked against "Nicky" and "Alix" right from the beginning - both were shy and unready to become rulers. Nicholas was overwhelmed by his role as Tsar and unable to take a stand against his forceful uncles and his cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who exerted too much control over him in the beginning of his reign, while Alexandra, being very serious and reticent, was immensely unpopular in frivolous Russian society. Being German, she became even more unpopular when World War I broke out - although she considered herself a loyal Russian, she was dogged by rumors of treason and secret sympathy for the German cause. Alexandra didn't much care what society thought of her - although she was devastated, at the end, to realize how much the Russian peasants, who she always believed loyal, had been goaded to hate her - because she was much more occupied with a serious family concern: her son, the heir to the throne, was a hemophiliac in a time when most boys with his condition didn't live past childhood. Worried about his future, frustrated by the medical community's inability to cure him, and devastated by having to helplessly stand by and watch her child in excruciating pain, Alexandra turned to religion and through it to Rasputin the monk. Rasputin was able to bring relief to Alexei when no one else could - Massie suggests that he worked through a powerful hypnotic influence to calm Alexei, explaining that hemophiliac episodes often abate when the patient relaxes - and so won the unquestioning devotion of Alexandra, who refused to hear anything negative said about him even as, away from her eyes, he caroused in a disgustingly lewd fashion and won himself hundreds of enemies. Rasputin used his influence with Alexandra to begin exerting more and more control over Russian policy, particularly when Nicholas left to take charge of the troops at the front. Under Alexandra's stumbling adherence to Rasputin's recommendations, the government crumbled, paving the way for Lenin to introduce his particularly bloodthirsty brand of Communism. As Alexander Kerensky, a Russian revolutionary turned Minister during the tumultuous days of upheaval, later wrote, "If there had been no Rasputin, there could be no Lenin." Nicholas abdicated; soon after, he and his family were imprisoned and ultimately brutally murdered.

I've been interested in the Romanov story for quite some time and this book was a fantastic, thorough retelling of the family's saga, and through it, Russia's saga. Thanks to a rather... unconventional... teacher I had for A.P. European History, I never fully understood the fall of Imperial Russia, but I did know that Rasputin was extremely lascivious and difficult to kill. Thanks to Massie, I now have a much more comprehensive understanding of what happened - the most logical version of what happened, that is. I'm looking forward to reading his new(ish) book with its updates on the finding of most of the Romanov remains, and to following the coverage in the news now that the final two bodies have been located and identified.
Profile Image for Casey.
272 reviews128 followers
July 28, 2013
Here are some things I knew about the Romanovs before reading Nicholas and Alexandra:

-Their rule ended because of the Russian Revolution, which did not go particularly well for them (or for anyone, really).

-Alexis was a hemophiliac.

-Rasputin was somehow involved, and he was also a bearded super-creeper.

-The 1997 animated film is, sadly, not an accurate portrayal of the fate of Anastasia Romanova.

Which is to say that I learned quite a lot from this book.

My history classes had an overly-simplistic narrative about European revolutions. The story always went that the monarchs were fools who cared more about jewelry than their own people, and deserved to be deposed. The people were always doing the right thing, and we didn't learn much about the bloody executions and power struggles that took place away from the royal palaces. The end result was always that revolution paved the way for democracy (yay, democracy!!! Democracy is always right all the time always!!!), or that revolutions temporarily created communist states (boo, communism, communists are always evil and starving and bad), but that eventually these communist states would realize that democracy is like totally the best thing EVAH, so no worries.

Nicholas and Alexandra, of course, provides a more nuanced story of the Russian Revolution. At the center stands Nicholas, a family man who cared deeply about Russia yet never questioned his hereditary right to autocracy. Next time him is Alexandra, a devout mother caring for a chronically-ill son. Alexandra seemed to have a fairly thorny personality, but Massie convincingly argues that Alexandra was also emotionally manipulated by Rasputin. Massie speculates that things would have turned out different for Russia if little Alexis hadn't been born with hemophilia. If Alexis were well, then Rasputin couldn't have come to power, Alexandra would not have been convinced by Rasputin to fight for complete autocracy, and Nicholas might have allowed Russia to become a constitutional monarchy. It's an interesting bit of speculative history, which I could easily see being true.

It's obvious that the imperial family had no business running Russia, which had more than its fair share of problems. However, it's also obvious that the Romanovs didn't deserve to be brutally executed. Nicholas and Alexandra presents a balanced portrait of the last Russian monarchs, and I recommend the book for anyone interested in Russia.
Profile Image for E. G..
1,112 reviews684 followers
April 6, 2022
List of Photographic Plates
Cast of Characters

--Nicholas and Alexandra: The Last Tsar and His Family

Family Trees
Profile Image for Jorge.
253 reviews341 followers
March 21, 2016
Fascinante libro biográfico sobre la vida, el entorno político, social y emotivo del último Zar de Rusia, Nicolás II y de su familia. La pluma del autor Robert K. Massie, historiador norteamericano, se muestra sumamente fina, amena e ilustrativa en esta por demás épica y a la vez terrible historia, en donde el destino dejó caer toda su fuerza tanto sobre Rusia como sobre la familia imperial.

El libro resulta además de placentero e interesante, bastante conmovedor, debido a las tragedias que aquí se nos narran. Asistir al ocaso del Imperio Ruso con todas sus implicaciones, así como contemplar la vida y el derrumbe de este buen hombre, Nicolás II, obligado a ser emperador por “designios divinos” de una sexta parte del territorio del planeta, no es motivo de alegría.

Durante la extensa lectura y a pesar de que ésta te mantiene fuertemente atenazado, muchas veces la tuve que interrumpir para ver, en la portada del libro, el rostro sereno, majestuoso y lleno de dignidad del último Zar de todas las Rusias, como buscando en ese rostro y en esa mirada el secreto de tanta estoicidad, valor y resignación para soportar, hacia el final de su vida, un proceso de humillación, terror, desprecio y muerte.

La novela está conformada tanto por una maravillosa narrativa del historiador como por centenares de cartas y testimonios que nos abren una ventana hacia aquella Rusia que se desangraba y en donde puede observarse toda la tristeza y todo el dolor que había detrás de esa opulencia imperial y de esa elegancia y confort de que gozaba la nobleza.

Massie nos transporta a aquel país maravilloso y suntuoso para los agraciados y penoso y miserable para una gran mayoría de la Rusia de finales del siglo XIX y principios del XX. El Imperio Ruso además de extenso e imponente era una civilización con sus rasgos muy particulares que poco a poco se fue occidentalizando y en el cual se asentaba una grandiosa cultura un tanto extraña y misteriosa, envuelta por un fuerte misticismo que emanaba del acendrado fervor de la ortodoxia rusa que el autor nos transmite vivamente a través de las páginas de este libro.

Un país de bárbaros para muchos europeos, sustentado en un triunvirato indisoluble: Zar-Iglesia-Pueblo.

Como tantos otros autores que a través de sus obras nos han hecho sensibilizarnos con el sufriente Pueblo Ruso, en esta historia también nos apercibimos de que el corazón de ese pueblo no residía en los interesados y egoístas cortesanos, o en la privilegiada aristocracia rusa muy ligada y emparentada con la Europa Occidental, tampoco lo estaba en los mezquinos funcionarios o en los oportunistas que pululaban por las ciudades, sino que la verdadera Rusia estaba en aquella parte del pueblo más humilde y oprimida: los campesinos, los afligidos “mujiks” que le daban vida y corazón a la Madre Rusia.

La historia del mundo nos ha enseñado que en todos los acontecimientos importantes de la humanidad suelen conjuntarse una serie de factores que unidos han provocado las grandes tragedias, las enormes epopeyas, las gloriosas conquistas, los bochornosos magnicidios, las heroicas revoluciones y todos aquellos notables hechos que han cambiado el rumbo de la humanidad, para bien o para mal.

En este caso en que el autor nos describe la historia que conduce a la tragedia de la familia Románov y a Revolución Rusa, no hay excepción a esta condición.

Personalmente, después de haber leído este libro, concluyo que los trágicos hechos en la Rusia Imperial que dieron al traste con la dinastía Románov, que gobernó durante 300 años aquellas vastas tierras, se dieron principalmente por la confluencia de algunos elementos: la inconformidad de las clases oprimidas que venían arrastrando por siglos y que se acrecentaron con la actuación de Rusia durante la Primera Guerra Mundial; las debilidades y pocas aptitudes que tenía el Zar Nicolás II para afrontar esta colosal empresa de gobernar un muy importante Imperio que se encontraba en un punto de ebullición, el debilitamiento de la autocracia rusa socavada por la creación de la Duma Imperial (asamblea representativa) a la que se le dieron ciertas facultades; la consolidación del Comunismo en Rusia impulsado por una figura tan fuerte como Lenin y, por último, la actuación del enigmático Rasputin en la corte imperial quien llegó a gozar de una influyente posición en virtud de su ascendencia sobre la Zarina obtenida por sus aparentes dotes de enviado de Dios con los que, entre otras cosas, aliviaba al Zarevich Alejo de la hemofilia que padecía y también utilizando a la Emperatriz para influir sobre el Zar.

Para el autor el punto decisivo que encauza la estrepitosa caída del Zarismo y que desencadena los trágicos sucesos en la Rusia de 1917-1918 fue un factor que a simple vista parecería secundario: la hemofilia del Zarevich y hacia allá gira la historia. Inusitada y curiosa hipótesis, pero así como la plantea Massie no suena descabellada.

Un santón vagabundo y oportunista con “poderes sobrenaturales” que aprovecha la desesperación de una madre ante el dolor y las agonías de su pequeño hijo causadas por la hemofilia que ella le transmitió y que exasperada se agarra a un clavo ardiente para buscar alivio para el hijo amado y heredero del trono. Ese clavo ardiente era nada más y nada menos que el inefable Grigori Rasputin, un campesino religioso salido de las entrañas de la Rusia Siberiana que utiliza sus extraños poderes hipnóticos y de otra naturaleza para influir de manera muy relevante en el Imperio. Esos inexplicables y asombrosos poderes que ostentaba Rasputin no han quedado totalmente claros ni entendibles para la razón humana y parece que las arenas del tiempo ya han cubierto las pistas que podrían proporcionar una explicación razonable.

Una vez más “el molinillo del gusto” desplegó sus azarosas alas con fuerza inusitada sobre los destinos de Rusia y del Zar Nicolás II. Hijo del Zar Alejandro III y ungido como el Gran Zar Nicolás II por un pueblo que lo adoraba, vitoreaba y celebraba, que veía en él los designios de Dios para gobernarlos y protegerlos. Por encima de él sólo estaba Dios.

Después de algunos años, denostado y martirizado, aborrecido hasta la humillación y la muerte. Casi cien años después de su muerte canonizado por la Iglesia Ortodoxa Rusa junto con su familia como mártires de la humanidad.

La Zarina Alejandra no sabía lo que le esperaba a Rusia tras unos años después de escribir lo siguiente:
“…me preguntó qué pasará después de esta guerra. ¿Habrá un despertar y un renacimiento en todo…volverán a existir los ideales, será la gente más pura y poética o seguirá siendo materialista? Un dolor tan grande como el que ha sufrido el mundo debe limpiar los corazones y las mentes y purificar los cerebros estancados y las almas dormidas.”

Nadie imaginaba la hecatombe que esperaba al Pueblo Ruso en donde recibiría una dosis de crueldad y humillación centuplicada bajo la férula del Comunismo, primero con Lenin y después con el despiadado Stalin.
Profile Image for Boudewijn.
680 reviews92 followers
July 18, 2021
An intimate account of the lives of this tragic family, with special attention on the rol which Aleksej's haemophilia played in the daily live of Nicholas and Alexandra. The author concludes that without Aleksej's haemophilia, there would have been no Rasputin and no communist revolution. It was Rasputin's role between the first revolution (1905) and the ultimate communist revolution, which caused so much resentment. Alexandra, led by Rasputin, resisted heavily against sharing the power with the Doema and convinced Nicholas to pursue his autocratic rule untill it was too late.
Profile Image for Steve.
332 reviews1,093 followers
June 17, 2021

With a sweeping and often colorful 562-page narrative, “Nicholas and Alexandra” adroitly fuses two genres of non-fiction: biography and history. At its core, this is a dual-biography of Nicholas II (1868-1918) and his German-born wife (1872-1918). But it also provides piercing, if incomplete, insight into the fall of the Russian empire and the rise of notable figures such as Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky and Josef Stalin.

The tragic fate of this odd aristocratic couple seems immutably influenced by their son’s hemophilia, Nicholas’s inability to recognize growing discontent among the Russian populace and Alexandra’s unshakable faith in Grigori Rasputin’s mystical healing powers. What results when meticulous research meets an uncommon penchant for storytelling is an engaging and informative tale of the fall of the Romanov dynasty.

Outstanding individual moments in the book include Massie’s review of Nicholas’s 1894 coronation, a vibrant description of the Tsar’s private village (Tsarskoe Selo), a masterful portrait of the notorious Rasputin, an expert dissection of the personalities and family dynamics of the Tsar’s family and, finally, an engrossing chapter devoted to the nearly-bungled plot to assassinate Rasputin.

The first one-third of Massie’s book is nearly as good as biography can be. Nearing its halfway point, the narrative becomes somewhat more tedious as it tackles the increasingly complex nuances of Russian political instability and social unrest. The final chapters, however, are increasingly captivating as the beleaguered Tsar abdicates power and is eventually arrested and executed (along with his wife, children and dog).

Readers expecting a carefree journey through Russian history may be disappointed, however. While the early chapters provide an almost effortless literary experience, there is dense history to be tackled. And while Massie does a nice job simplifying the landscape, the narrative can occasionally feel like a blur of unfamiliar names and circumstances.

In addition, while the hemophilia diagnosis of Nicholas’s son (and heir apparent) is critical to the author’s thesis – and likely the fate of the Romanov dynasty – Massie’s emphasis on this issue can feel excessive at times. Finally, the half-century that has elapsed since the book’s publication has provided new insights into the Romanov family’s life and death, rendering the book slightly stale. On the basis of this new information, however, Massie wrote “The Romanovs: The Final Chapter” which was published in 1995.

Overall, Robert Massie’s “Nicholas and Alexandra” is a serious and soaring account of the lives of the last Emperor and Empress of Russia, their closest family members and the colorful characters who surrounded them. Readers interested in the demise of the Russian empire will find the narrative full of intriguing insights. But anyone who values great biography will also appreciate the captivating characters and colorful narrative.

Overall rating: 4½ stars
Profile Image for Lori Elliott (catching up).
746 reviews1,793 followers
December 15, 2012
The 'Perfect Storm' of events is what ultimately conspired to the brutal end of the Romanovs! Russia's need for social reform and Nicholas's inability to confront it, Alexandra's dependency on the rogue Rasputin to help her deal with her son's hemophilia, and Russia's entry into a war they were not ready for!!! Very well researched and well written novel...
Profile Image for Matt.
432 reviews
August 21, 2023
“Truth Is Stranger than Fiction, But It Is Because Fiction Is Obliged to Stick to Possibilities; Truth Isn’t” — Mark Twain

The Russian Revolution and the fall of the Romanov dynasty is a part of history I pretty much knew nothing about. This book is very well written and the subject matter was absolutely fascinating. Robert K. Massie did a wonderful job staying focused on Nicholas and Alexandra and their family. I felt like I personally knew them all by the end.

It is almost unbelievable that all this actually happened. I learned a lot from this book.

This may very well end up as my favorite book of the year!

A recommendation I would give is to read this book in conjunction with the novel Doctor Zhivago. I thought it made a perfect Non fiction / fiction pairing and both books were 5 stars/excellent.

50 reviews180 followers
April 10, 2012
Massie is a talented writer, and it was easy to be drawn into the world he evokes in this polished dual biography. We feel for the peculiar upbringings of children in homes where czars and dukes struggle to raise normal families in the rarified air of late 19th century European aristocracy. The complex political and dynastic problems of the era are deftly drawn. And we feel close to the doomed and awkward couple at the center of the maelstrom.

However, in his efforts to present a corrective to history's judgement of the Romanovs, Massie lapses into hagiography. The monstrous injustices of the Czar's regime are glossed over. His sympathetic portrayal of Alexandra is at odds with the antipathy she aroused in most of those who had contact with her. And ultimately, the central argument of the book - that the Romanovs made bad decisions out of concern for their son - remains unconvincing.

We can see why Alexandra would come to rely on Rasputin to give her emotional support during the ongoing crisis of the heir's survival. What Massie glosses over is why she took such an active - and catastrophic - role in governing Russia during the Great War. And more importantly, why did Nicolas let himself be dominated by her, even though she was entirely ill-equipped to handle such responsibilities?

It seems clear that an honest appraisal of the relationship between Nicolas and Alexandra under the strain of the final years of regime would cast them both in a bad light; she the haughty and foolish meddler, he the weak-willed enabler. So Massie (who surely knows better), lets sympathy get the better of him, and leaves those crucial questions unasked.

In the end, a fine read, but biased and spotty history.
Profile Image for Emily.
706 reviews2,044 followers
November 13, 2012
This was a really fascinating portrait of the last Romanov couple. Nicholas and Alexandra's lives are presented in exhaustive detail - from their first meeting to the months before their execution - and Massie succeeds in both humanizing them and absolving them of some of the blame for the collapse of the autocracy.

Nicholas, Alexandra, and their son Alexis get distinct personalities, but the four Romanov daughers tend to blend together. It's partially because so much time is devoted to Alexis's hemophilia. Massie ties everything to the unfortunate condition of the Russian heir, including Alexandra's relationship with Rasputin and her subsequent fall in popularity. His big "what if" questions center around the disease. He makes sure to say that he doesn't ascribe the fall of the Russian empire to one sick boy, but he does maintain that hemophilia had drastic effects on the family and on the empire.

The descriptions of Russian court life are mind-blowing. I especially liked some of the side stories; Balanchine and Fabergé were my favorites. The chapter explaining the Romanov succession is also hilarious. I'd like to get drunk with Peter the Great. Rasputin's daughter could also come. Apparently she ended up as a lion tamer in Hollywood.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,989 reviews17 followers
March 6, 2014
Masterful in explaining the death of Rasputin, the rise of Lenin and red v white.

4* N & A
5* Peter the Great

Would have picked up Massey's massive and impressive empress Catherine too, except that I have just recently roundly devoured Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Parvathy.
202 reviews47 followers
September 13, 2011
"After all, the nursery was the center of all Russia's Trouble" this quote by Sir Bernard Pares was the line that caught my attention when I decided to go through this 1967 biography of the last royal family of Russia by historian Robert K. Massie. Being not much of a fan of non fiction literature I was a little reluctant when my mother recommended this book to me and told me that this book was one of a kind. But all my reservations was removed the moment I came across this line. What part does a nursery play in determining the fate of a nation and that to a nation such as Russia?. But this book illustrates that this is exactly what happened in the case of Russia and the last of the Romanov dynasty. Before reading this book my knowledge of Russia and its Imperial family was confined to what I have learned in my history classes and read from popular fiction books. Songs like Rasputin by Boney M and movies like 'Anastasia' have only done its part in increasing my misconceptions about the royal family. I never had before read the inside account about the lives of all those historical characters that has played their part in shaping the world as we know it. Suffix to say this book was all I needed to set things straight. Having a son diagnosed with hemophilia Massie's attempt to learn how other families dealt with the problems raised by this unique disease turned in to curiosity about the response of the parents of the boy who was the most famous hemophiliac of all, the Tsarevich Alexis, the only son and heir of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of all of Russias and his wife Empress Alexandra. The birth of the Tsarvich more than anything else determined the later course of Russian History. The effort to deal with the agonies inflicted on her son by this disease the Empress turned to Gregory Rasputin, the Siberian starlet and whose influence on the royal family and through them on the government of Russia helped to bring about to the fall of the dynasty. Weaving together the vast wealth of information left in the form of diaries, letters and memoirs by the men and women who were intimately involved in this drama Massie brings to life the story of the last Romanov Family, mainly that of Nicholas II not as a Tsar that lead to the downfall of Tsarism but as man, a husband and a father. A few see him as the symbol of fading age and even idolize him while others insist that he was "Bloody Nicholas" stupid and shallow. But he was a good man with personal charm, gentleness, love of family and Russian patriotism too overwhelming to be denied. But the author himself quotes that the tragedy of Nicholas II was that he appeared in the wrong place at the wrong time. Caught in a web Nicholas paid for his mistakes by forsaking everything he held dear. Thrust with responsibilities he never wanted in the first place. Fated to play a the part history has reserved for him Nicholas II was an exceptional man. The author through this book empathizes with a father who is forced to play out a role of the father of a handicapped boy while trying to do justice to the million who sees him as their father. This book indeed is a tribute to the man who tried to do what was right always but ended up making mistakes all along the way. But this is not just a story about hemophilia but so much more than that. It is a love story with all the political intricacies, a story of self sacrifice and outstanding courage, it is the story of a family whose simplest actions was brought under public scrutiny, story of those human beings whose actions would have been deemed normal and worthy of understanding if not for the positions they occupied. This book shows the other side of what we presume as a royal and luxurious life and should not be missed by anyone who seeks the truth.
Profile Image for Erik Graff.
5,030 reviews1,165 followers
November 29, 2012
Just starting college and thinking of a history degree with a specialization in Russian history, I picked up Massie's biography of the last of the Romanovs with some interest. Except for learning something about hemophilia and some dirt about Rasputin, I was very disappointed. The book might be enjoyed by someone entranced with the lives of "royals" and not concerned about those last aristocrats who actually exercised state power by virtue of birth. Knowing much of anything about Russian history on the eve of their revolution makes this sophomoric study almost insufferable.

The movie version of this popular book came out in 1971. Like the book, it was pretty bad.
Profile Image for Scarlett.
150 reviews56 followers
October 31, 2017
This book blew me away. It was the most emotional book for me this year, I was disturbed and shaken for days and weeks after reading it. Also, I immersed myself in reading many works about Russian history, such as Peter the Great: His Life and World, also by Robert K. Massie. My mistake of not reading it sooner was based on a notion that this was a love-story like many out there, about Cleopatra and Caesar, Elizabeth and Richard. I don't really like them, they never feel well-researched and they are usually melodramatic. This one, however, was the result of many years of research.

If there are some things that are well-known about the Romanovs, those are the stories of Anastasia, the mysterious princess, Rasputin and the tale about Romanovs' assassination at the end of World War I. Even knowing just these facts is enough to get a feeling of empathy towards this royal family. Nobody should watch their loved ones die, no matter their possible political sins.

Nicholas and Alexandra came from very different backgrounds, Russia being the Northern orthodox country and Alexandra belonging to the Lutheran Church. As all Russian empresses, she had to convert to Orthodox faith and after that, you can enjoy reading about one of the most famous fanatics in history. This woman was a bigger believer than the pope (in this case, Patriarch) and this doesn't even begin to describe how crazy she was in that matter. Their marriage was very special, and you can either admire Alexandra for being clever and crafty or you can hate her for being extreme and short-sighted. Nicholas is represented as passive and kind, but firm in all the wrong situations. I was changing my mind all the time because Robert K. Massie did a great job of painting these complex people. One thing that is certain about Alexandra is that she was a great mother, which had been the moving force of her actions that led to disaster.

Nicholas and Alexandra doesn't focus on the children, but there are many other books about the four daughters. Young tsarevich Alexei was the one that stood out the most here and the impact his illness had on his family was immense. It was deeply saddening to hear about what this family went through, I felt sorry not only for him, but for his parents. He suffered from haemophilia, which is described in details, and that is why your heart can be broken when you learn about his solitary days and the way he spent his life.

Rasputin, the priest that Alexandra kept as a close confidant and adviser, seemed like the main villain in the book. I am not sure about that, but I definitely enjoyed almost sinister influence and tense atmosphere that came with his presence. Just his rise to power alone is interesting topic for a book, but here, it is just a peak of events.

This is a monster-book, you can't read it in one sitting, although I tried. I was happy that it took me longer to read this, because I was dreading the ending and my feelings after that. It was absolutely fascinating. Rich, detailed characterization drew me completely into the lives of these people. If you are looking for a way to familiarize yourself with a chapter of modern history that is extremely important, this is the right choice. If you think you can handle gruesome details and you enjoy epic history movies, I believe this is the perfect book for you.
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