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The Romanovs: The Final Chapter

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In July 1991, nine skeletons were exhumed from a shallow mass grave near Ekaterinburg, Siberia, a few miles from the infamous cellar room where the last tsar and his family had been murdered seventy-three years before. But were these the bones of the Romanovs? And if these were their remains, where were the bones of the two younger Romanovs supposedly murdered with the rest of the family? Was Anna Anderson, celebrated for more than sixty years in newspapers, books, and film, really Grand Duchess Anastasia? The Romanovs provides the answers, describing in suspenseful detail the dramatic efforts to discover the truth. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie presents a colorful panorama of contemporary characters, illuminating the major scientific dispute between Russian experts and a team of Americans, whose findings, along with those of DNA scientists from Russia, America, and Great Britain, all contributed to solving one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century.

308 pages, Paperback

First published November 17, 1995

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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 474 reviews
Profile Image for Cassy.
250 reviews736 followers
August 31, 2012
I have sad news. Anastasia is dead. Long dead. She died back in 1918 in a basement with her family. I am now convinced of this. Despite all the movies and claimants, she did not survive and escape. Meaning there is no hidden princess out there in the world. No unassuming person about to be uncovered and lavished with luxuries. Even more crushing, the probability that I am in fact a hidden princess is greatly diminished.

My ten year old self is devastated. In fifth grade, we had to script and act out an interview with a historical figure. I chose, of course, to be Anastasia. And lucky for you, I found that script hidden away in a closet.

While you read this excerpt from my make-believe talk show called “Talk-It-Out”, you have to picture me sitting in front of the class dressed in my costume: a frilly, pastel nightgown that my grandparents gave all us granddaughters for Christmas accented with some strands of fake pearls. [I kept my grammatical errors in tact for your further amusement.]

Host: While in a Germany nursing home[…]you gave no identity and wouldn’t show your face. Why?

Anna: Hmmm. I think I was safe in Germany for nobody knew I Russian. If I had given identity and shown my face. They would have known I was Anastasia, I was in the royal family of Russia. There would have been media, titles, and would I get back to Russia when I was in their country, their land and why go back to Russia for someone else was ruling it now. And I would have the title “Woman from Russia Royal Family in Germany” and that is a degrace. For I had no family. They were dead.

[Fast-forwarding here]

Anna: [...]First I was thought to be my sister, Tatiana. Then Anastasia. Then they knew. (pause) they knew I was Anastasia.

Host: Then they knew your secret?

Anna: Yes, (looks down).

Reading this script makes me simultaneously cringe and smile. The drama! And now having read Massie’s book, I realize my interview was written about Anna Anderson, a pretender who Massie convincingly shows was not in fact Anastasia. Opps.

I normally don’t do summaries, but let me offer a few clarifications about the book’s contents so you won’t be caught off guard like I was. It is not about how the Romanovs came to be murdered. There is nothing about the Tsar’s political missteps or such. (1) It starts out with a chilling and succinct description of the execution itself and moves forward. (2) And a surprisingly large chunk of the book is devoted to the forensic science of the case: analysis of the bones, in-fighting between experts, DNA testing, the ole match-the-skull-to-the-picture game, and so forth. Massie held my hands through the technical issues here (although I was confused by the names of the fifty million people involved). (3) Then there are smaller sections about the Anastasia wannabes and the surviving family members. (4) It concluded by recounting the Romanov’s last days before that fateful night they were murdered.

This set-up felt odd while I was reading. Yet, by the end, I could appreciate how he chose to structure the book: starting with a bang, delving into the science, shifting direction to the living again, and zooming back into the personal story for some last minute poignancy. It was cleverly done.

Unless you are really interested in Russian history (specifically the Anastasia myth) and/or forensic science, this isn’t the book for you. And to save you the hassle, I will share three of the most interesting bits I took away:

(1) Nightmare jobs
I will never complain about my job again. It could be so much worse. One Russian soldier was ordered to retrieve the bodies from their first hideaway: at night, in the remote woods, down an abandoned mine shaft, that was flooded. He just couldn’t catch a break. I get goose bumps imagining him wading in that frigid water up to his chest while several bloated corpses floated around, bumping into his arm. Ahh!

Or there are also the college students charged with maceration, meaning boiling the meat off human bones. They literally watch body parts swim around in a vat of boiling water until the flesh falls off and the bone expert can start his analysis. According to the expert, "Yes, it's a very distasteful task, but I can only recall one or two students who have been unable to handle it." Yeah, that would be me too.

(2) Did Hollywood screw up?
All the movies and books nowadays focus on Anastasia. It is true that the remains of one sister were not found with the main cache of remains. But experts disagree which sister is missing. Most think it is Anastasia. But some think it is, for example, Marie.

(3) More more more
I was shocked to learn the intent to which the Romanovs were murdered during that tumultuous time in Russian history. Beyond the Tsar’s immediate family (which included Anastasia), there were at least twelve other Romanovs killed in cold blood.

Let’s wrap up this review. If you are still interested after my precautions about content, by all means, read it. It is worth the effort. I enjoyed Massie’s style and would be open to reading another of his books about Russia, although preferably one with less science and more history.
Profile Image for TBV (on hiatus).
308 reviews74 followers
August 2, 2019
“At midnight, Yakov Yurovsky, the leader of the executioners, came up the stairs to awaken the family.” Thus begins Robert K. Massie’s very interesting and well researched account of the infamous murders of the Romanov family, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra as well as their son and four daughters in the cellar of a house in Ekaterinburg, Russia in the early hours of the 17th July, 1918. Using the simplest of ploys Yurovsky had coaxed them from their bedrooms to the cellar from which there was no escape. He then proceeded to line them up, assuring them that it was for a family photograph, and once nicely lined up they were massacred. With them were some of their faithful retainers: Eugene Botkin, Anna Demidova, Ivan Kharitonov and Alexei Trupp. Eleven people were killed. For as long as they thought that they could get away with it the Russian authorities denied that the royal family had been killed. Eventually they admitted that Tsar Nicholas was dead, but they would not say anything about the rest of the family.

This is not a book about what came before, or why the Romanovs were in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg in the first place. It is assumed that the reader knows the history (at least partially) up to this point. The book focuses on the subsequent questions and problems and how these were resolved or not.

Eight days after the gruesome event the Whites took Ekaterinburg and arrived at the Ipatiev House. Mr Massie describes what they found. There were certainly no bodies, but a few personal items of the family were still in evidence, as well as: “Many religious books also remained, along with a copy of War and Peace, three volumes of Chekhov, a biography of Peter the Great, a volume of Tales from Shakespeare, and Les Fables de la Fontaine.” Nicholas Sokolov, a professional legal instigator, was appointed to investigate. “Accordingly, Sokolov concluded that on July 18, the day after the execution, Yurovsky had destroyed the bodies by chopping them up with axes, dousing them repeatedly with gasoline and sulfuric acid, and burning them to ash in bonfires near the mine shafts.” For many years it was the accepted explanation.

Eventually Sokolov’s findings were questioned. Bodies cannot be burned to ash over an open fire, and besides, teeth are indestructible. Then in May 1979 the burial site was found by Alexander Avdonin and filmmaker Geli Ryabov, who also procured a document written by the chief assasin, Yakov Yurovsky. The finding of the site was not accidental, and the author describes how they went about locating it. However fear kept them from announcing their find until several years later. Once Boris Yeltsin came to power permission was sought and granted to excavate the burial site where nine instead of eleven skeletons were found. The finding of these skeletons caused more questions than answers. Were they the murdered Romanovs? Who was missing, and why? The bodies had been badly smashed to obliterate indications of who they were, and all clothing and jewellery (“Eighteen pounds of diamonds were collected, mostly from the corsets worn by three of the grand duchesses. The empress was found to be wearing a belt of pearls made up of several necklaces sewed into linen.”) had been removed by those who had disposed of the bodies. DNA tests were not an option for the Russians at the time, and forensic anthropologist Sergei Abramov developed methods to ascertain whether or not the bones belonged to the Romanovs whilst a mathematician calculated probabilities.

Before long an American forensic anthropologist, William Maples became involved. Whilst everyone was in agreement that the skeleton of the young tsarevich Alexis was missing, Abramov felt certain that the other missing skeleton belonged to Marie whereas Maples believed that it belonged to the youngest daughter, Anastasia. This was not the only time that scientists would disagree about their findings.

Enter Dr Peter Gill, the head of Biological Services (Research) of the Forensic Science Service in England who performed DNA profiling at the request of the Russians. He obtained a blood sample from Prince Philip himself, which helped Dr Gill prove the identity of Alexandra and her daughters. Mr Massie provides a run-down of the basics of DNA profiling.

All the goings on had not only captured the interest of the public, but also of a whole variety of imposters. There are hilarious accounts of some of the fabricated stories. One man who received a death sentence for theft suddenly remembered that he was the tsarevich Alexis. Another was a successful spy, who once he became a United States citizen proclaimed that he was the tsarevich. A big problem for those pretending to be Alexis: Alexis had suffered from haemophilia.

Then there were the women, the most notorious of whom was Anna Anderson who declared herself to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. There was even a play and a film. Anna Anderson certainly captured the imagination of many. “Thereafter, the public, seeing pictures of Anna Anderson, complained that she did not look like Ingrid Bergman.” Many believed her - even the famous pianist/composer Sergei Rachmaninov arranged accommodation for her in a comfortable hotel. Was she who she claimed to be or not? Litigation ensued. After Anna’s death there was more litigation, and DNA tests were performed on some of her body tissue samples found in a hospital. Finally a verdict was announced. Then came the conspiracy theories…

There were other scientists involved in the saga, and there had also been a conference in Ekaterinburg in which various papers were delivered and discussed. Mr Massie details the interactions between the several scientists, and he also delves into the various court cases which resulted from Anderson’s claim that she was Anastasia. There is a discussion of who is left of the other branches of the Romanov family, and what their views and their pretensions to a non-existent throne are. Mr Massie closes with a chapter in which he details how the Romanov family spent the seventy-eight days that they lived at the Ipatiev House prior to being summoned to the cellar. There is a layout of the house, and at the back of the book there are photos of several of the people mentioned in the book. The Ipatiev House was destroyed in 1977.

The Romanov Family circa 1913/1914 (Wikipedia)
Profile Image for Dan.
1,135 reviews52 followers
March 11, 2019
I read The Romanovs as part of my WW1 project. I will say that I am normally a huge fan of Robert K. Massie’s books having read the extraordinary biographies, ‘Peter the Great’ and ‘Nicholas and Alexandra’.

In this book Massie, some twenty years after Nicholas and Alexandra was written, seeks to revise the last chapter of N&A as new information came to light as part of Glasnost. Massie corrects the record on how the Romanovs were killed and how their bodies were disposed of in that summer of 1918 some fifteen months after they were first imprisoned. The book goes on further to discuss the endless Soviet investigations and refutes all the conspiracy theories around the executions and discredits all the imposters of the 20th century who claim they were a surviving Romanov.

This book reads a little like Bugliosi’s ‘Assassination of President John F. Kennedy’. The writing is excellent but in both books the assassination conspiracies are disproven and you come away knowing just a little more about what happened but not enough to alter your perception of history.

I felt the discussion around Lenin’s involvement in the assassination was interesting as well as the early section of the book which highlighted the search for the impromptu burial site near Yekaterinburg, Siberia. The family and a few loyal servants were executed in the basement of the Ipatiev House and quickly transported to a predetermined pit in the forest but the transport truck got bogged down in the mud making a mockery of the local Bolsheviks plan to properly dispose of the bodies. It was partly a rush job because the Czech brigade and the Whites were quickly approaching the town. As the opponents to the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War, the Whites were expected to liberate the Royal Family and did in fact arrive at the house just a few days after the executions.

3.5 Stars. Probably 4 stars for those who do not already have an understanding of the Romanov’s final days.
Profile Image for Antigone.
516 reviews751 followers
June 4, 2015
Roused from their beds at midnight, the bleary Imperial family is told they must move to the lower floors of the home in which they have been imprisoned. There is worry the local unrest will result in gunfire; there is a danger of stray bullets penetrating the quarters upstairs. They rise. They dress. It all makes an inconvenient sort of sense. They have heard the rumblings of artillery in the distance. And so they calmly descend to a dingy basement room where they are instructed to arrange themselves for a quick photograph. Rumors of their escape are circulating in Moscow. These must be put to rest. Yes, yes. Alexandra, the mother, will sit in the one chair, her frail hemophiliac son, Alexis, will occupy the other. The Tsar and his four beautiful daughters adjust around them, duly taking their posed positions.

It is a surprise to find, in place of a photographer, eleven hard men entering this tightly enclosed space. It is a surprise to see Yurovsky pull the scrap of paper from his pocket; curious to hear him report that, due to the obstructive behavior of their relations, the Ural Executive Committee has decided on execution. This is the madness of an instant; no time for anything to be thought through or protested. The Tsar can only say "What? What?" in his confusion before the shooting begins.

Thirty gruesome minutes it took to kill these people. It shouldn't have, but there are reasons for that. And when the corpses were trundled out, transported, burned, buried, no one could remember exactly how this happened or where it took place. Odd, but again, there are reasons for that. Seventy years would pass before anyone stumbled upon those truths, long decades of rampant speculation, much of which may now be stilled.

Robert Massie's The Romanovs: The Final Chapter is written in the style of a hard-hitting documentary and reports on the discovery of the Imperial family's remains in the swampland of Ekaterinburg. He covers the ensuing disputes over identification, corrects several long-held historical misapprehensions and resolves much of the mystery behind these fateful assassinations. Included are biographical sketches of the most prominent pretenders (Anna Anderson, Eugenia Smith, Michael Goleniewski), the disposition of the current Romanov descendants, and perspective on the impact of this event in modern day Russia.

Well-written and, by turns, fascinating, tragic and absurd - it's a bracing read I'd recommend to anyone interested in this chapter of history.
Profile Image for Micah Cummins.
206 reviews206 followers
June 8, 2022
49th book of 2022

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert Massie focuses on the forensic work that was done in the late 20th century to locate the remaining bodies of the Romanov family, and to be able to finally have a clearer picture of what took place in the final days of the Imperial family. I found this very interested and insightful. Massie's writing style is very easy to read, and he has a fantastic ability to translate data into understandable phrases.
Profile Image for Louise.
1,672 reviews302 followers
March 22, 2015
This book is a departure for Robert Massie who has produced some extraordinarily readable research on the Romanovs. The book is history (his forte) but it is also journalism and a discussion of forensic science and law.

As a history buff, the beginning and ending parts were of most interest to me. Massie starts with a careful documentation of the murders of the Tsar and his family and how the news was managed by the Russian revolutionaries. The end deals with fate of other branches of the Romanovs. Overshadowed by the drama of Ekaterinburg is that within 6 months of the death of the Tsar and his family, 17 other Romanovs and many of their attendants were killed, many within days. For a good treatment of the remaining Romanovs I recommend:The Flight Of The Romanovs A Family Saga.

A lot of this book deals with forensic issues, the in fighting among the international scientific teams, and the legal issues involved. These parts bogged me down, more for my lesser interest in them than for Massie's excellent work.

There was a lot of space devoted to the Anastasia pretender, Franziska Schanzkowska. She certainly is important to this saga. I never realized the impact she had on the Romanovs and royalty in other parts of Europe.

The discussion of "where" they are "now" (1995), which has obviously changed since this book's publication, was interesting. It cleared up, for me, the rationale used by the various claimants to the throne (one never knows...). The interview with Prince Nicholas Romanov shows him (now deceased) to be a voice of reason.
320 reviews22 followers
October 19, 2020
Everyone loves a good romantic story where a hero escapes the ravages of fate. Maybe this is why some people cling to the idea that one of the Romanoff daughters survived the family's execution with a fervor normally reserved for religious conversion. There have been many imposters and conspiracy theories involving this bloodcurdling historic event, but the author debunk them all in this book. This is less compelling than his other work, but it is interesting and entirely convincing.

Content advisory: gruesome details of forensic science are discussed
Profile Image for Darcy.
12.7k reviews447 followers
June 14, 2011
I had hoped that this book would give an intimate look at the last days of the family and just how they got to where they were before they were killed. The book did cover this very briefly, but mostly it focused on the aftermath, of finding the bones in the grave, of debunking the imposters, petty turf wars among the scientific community in their search for the truth, and petty disagreements of the remaining family members of just who is really the "head" of the family now that the original family is dead. It seems like most of those involved forgot what was really important, the death of this family.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews300 followers
November 23, 2014
Having just read and loved Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra, I pounced on this one with somewhat unseemly glee. Alas, this was mostly about a group of academics squabbling over old bones and just it didn't grab me. Bottom line spoiler: If you are interested in an updated version of the DNA testing, Google: 'Romanov, bones'!
Profile Image for Arsyn.
7 reviews2 followers
June 6, 2011
I have been an avid reader of anything having to do with the Romanov family for years. When I discovered this book, I must say I was ecstatic to finally see some scientific evidence pertaining to the tragic fall of the Last Tsar and his family.

Yes! That is exactly what this book provides. It describes years and years of research and archaeological work done in Russia both through historical documents and field work done in the supposed burial sites of the Romanov bodies. The evidence found is fascinating and I'm sure even those of you who are not particularly interested in this topic or Russian history will find this book to be captivating.

Robert K. Massie has proven himself again to be one of the best biography authors currently out there. The non-fictional report reads almost like a novel and is quite difficult to put down. This book is a great follow up Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra and provides even greater insight into the haunting tale of the Last of the Romanov family.
Profile Image for Sotiris Karaiskos.
1,178 reviews89 followers
October 21, 2016
Αυτό το βιβλίο το διάβασα κατά λάθος, αλλά περίμενα να βρω και άλλα βρήκα, παρόλα αυτά όμως συνέχισα με την ανάγνωση. Το βιβλίο είναι ουσιαστικά μία περιγραφή όσων ακολούθησαν την εκτέλεση του τελευταίου Τσάρου και της οικογένειας του μέχρι την ανακάλυψη του τόπου ταφής τους και την αναγνώρισή τους με τη βοήθεια της τεχνολογίας. Ένα όχι ιδιαίτερα ενδιαφέρον θέμα για εμένα, για αυτό και δυσκολεύομαι να το βαθμολογήσω. Το συνιστώ μόνο ως επίλογο του άλλου βιβλίου του συγγραφέα για αυτό το θέμα, του Nicholas and Alexandra.
Profile Image for Moon Rose.
179 reviews41 followers
April 28, 2013
Give strength, Just God, to us who need it,
The persecutors to forgive,
Our heavy, painful cross to carry
And Thy great meekness to achieve.

When we are plundered and insulted
In days of mutinous unrest
We turn for help to Thee, Christ-Savior,
That we may stand the bitter test.

Lord of the world, God of Creation,
Give us Thy blessing through our prayer
Give peace of heart to us, O Master,
This hour of utmost dread to bear.

And on the threshold of the grave
Breathe power divine into our clay
That we, Thy children, may find strength
In meekness for our foes to pray.
This poem was given by a friend of Empress Alexandra sent to the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg, where the Imperial Family was imprisoned for 78 days before their cold blooded execution. It was especially dedicated to her two eldest daughters, Grand Duchess Olga and Grand Duchess Tatiana. A copy written by Tatiana′s own hands was found inserted into one of her books by the White Army as one of the remnants left by the Tsar and his family as they came in too late in saving them from the murderous hands of the Bolshevik revolutionaries.

This prayer in its dramatic poetical form is a simplified exaltation of the spiritual strength of the Romanovs, taking place after the abdication of Nicholas II and the bleak confinement that soon followed that demeaned their rank and reputation in the eyes of the world, but in a more truthful sense, it is only their loss of human power and their ultimate gain of the Divine Order.

The sublime nature of their sacrifice, the utmost graceful acceptance of humiliation and their fate surrendering submission to God have become their reverberating memoir in the history of Russia that even after the passage of many years of their heinous deaths, it has become symbolic of Russian salvation against a decadent regime that will soon topple at the dawn of their resurrection.

The image of Tsar Nicholas II has become a permanent fixture in the pivotal point of Russian history as he as the last Tsar becomes a symbolic end to the Russian monarchy and his death, the birth of Bolshevik Communism that would lay claim all over the world. Yet, in the same manner, his resurrection from the ground where his slain body has long been buried in secrecy becomes the beginning of an end as the exhumation of his remains at the latter part of the 20th century becomes the signal of death for Communism, not just in Russia, but all over the world.

The fatalistic demise of Tsarism in Russia is vividly detailed by Robert K. Massie in Nicholas and Alexandra, where he intertwines the passionate love story and tragic fall of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra with the sudden and implacable rise of the Communist leader, Vladimir Ulyanov widely known as Lenin, whose intense yearning to gain power caused them both their mortal lives. In some ways, it is a sad account of realism prevalent in life in general that as sometimes the case, goodness becomes a willing victim of evil. It exudes predominantly in Massie′s sympathetic depiction of the Tsar as a gentle creature appearing as a figure of paragon for his wife and children, whose love for his country and family, has become the harbinger of doom in the reign of terror after his fall.

It is through this lamentable end that Massie′s Last Chapter on The Romanovs begins...

Their deaths had been clouded in mystery as the truth of what happened to them was kept as top secret by the propagandist Communist government to stabilize their hold to power. The lies upon lies issued by Soviet Russia as a cover up about their fate had diminished the small quantity of truth into a fallacy, generating myths and legends all throughout the 20th century, eventually producing impostors who claimed they were a Romanov survivor, the greatest of whom was Anna Anderson as the Grand Duchess Anastasia. She divided the Tsar′s loyal friends, Russian monarchists and the remaining Romanov family scattered all over the world to her true identity. Knowing the truth now, her convincing portrayal of Anastasia that made her famous seemed to be enveloped in mysticism inlaid in the true Russian tradition, which Massie himself was not able to uncover in the book as it remained an open question without an answer. This was inasmuch as Rasputin′s prophetic visions proclaimed to Empress Alexandra and his hypnotic medicinal power over the invalid Tsarevich Alexei, the Tsar′s only son that contributed to the fall of the Romanovs had remained missing pieces of the puzzle in the mystery.

The discovery and eventual exhumation of their remains in the woods of Ekaterinburg, which took place at the latter part of the 20th century as Communism was starting to lose its grip in Russia, making more information available for investigators had produced another riddle instead of as a solution to the mystery. They did not find Anastasia′s body among the 9 bodies exhumed, making Anna Anderson′s claim even stronger, shattered only with the DNA analysis of her specimen after her death as she eventually became known as the greatest Romanov impostor. In Massie′s exhaustive historical account, her story was carefully put in between the initial scientific disputes over the identification of the Imperial Family′s remains rimmed with controversial findings among the world′s topnotch forensic experts and the emergence of DNA fingerprinting, which resulted into a courtroom debacle in a foremost display of manipulation as they all seemed to struggle in acquiring her last remaining sample after her death.

Massie′s masterful journalistic narrative is a chilling account of the dynastic fall of the House of the Romanovs. It is suspenseful and intense in capturing their eventual end, serving not just an illumination of the truth behind the mystery surrounding their deaths, but a reflection of their enigmatic appeal that lies far beyond their own time as their martyrdom becomes a symbol of their own resurrection etched forever in the pages of history as the gentle figure of Tsar Nicholas II and his family are immortalized in Time.

And I know that this is not The Final Chapter I am going to read about The Romanovs. ☾☯
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
April 22, 2011
Written in 1995, at the time of publication, only nine of the eleven bodies of the Romanov family and their servants were found. In 2007, the bodies of young Alexei and his sister Maria were discovered.

Massie is the author of the classic, well-documented and meticulously researched book Nicholas and Alexandra. Obviously, still interested in the fate of Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their five children, Massie, tenaciously pursued the details surrounding the discovery of the remains in a wooded, secluded area of Ekaterinburg.

The plan to kill the Romanovs was hastily pulled together. Hours before the murders, some of the appointed guards could not follow through when they learned that women and children would be killed.

The execution and disposal of the bodies was macabrely gruesome. On July 17, 1918 the Romanovs, their dog, the family doctor and three servants were ushered into the basement of House of Special Purpose.

They went quietly, assuming that they were moved because the approaching white army might save them. Sadly, eight days later, the White army broke through, too late to rescue them from horrific, violent death ordered by the Bolsheviks.

While Russian bureaucracy still denies a direct link to Lenin in orchestrating the killings, most likely Lenin did indeed pull the strings that orchestrated the murders.

Masse's book follows the trail of the discovery of the nine bodies through DNA testing, giving comprehensive detail regarding the location and state of the bodies.

Clearly, the Romanovs were shot, mutilated, burned and doused with sulfuric acid. The disposal of the bodies was as botched as the killing, originally buried in shallow graves, the bodies were burned and then re buried.

While Masse's book plods along with gruesome details, and some chapters seem redundant, I recommend this book for those interested in the fate of The Romanovs and the political treachery of the Russian communist government.
Profile Image for Julie.
1,350 reviews94 followers
May 25, 2010
The follow-up to the highly addictive Nicholas and Alexandra was equally riveting. While the first book was published long before any remains were discovered, the second book explores the unearthing of the royal family’s final resting place, the authentication of the bones, the contention of a variety involved parties and the mystery of whether there were any survivors.

The first part of the book dealt with the identification of the remains. I had to slow down a bit to really absorb the various testing methods using nuclear DNA versus mitochondrial DNA and all the other technical jargon along with the many people involved in the process.

An entire section is devoted to the mystery of Anna Anderson, aka Anastasia. It amazed me that so many people were taken in by her claims (personally, I didn’t think she looked at all like Anastasia based on photos), especially considering she couldn’t even speak Russian! The ensuing court battle to test a small sample of her tissue to compare to Romanov DNA was like something out of Law and Order.

I find the whole Romanov thing very fascinating and that’s greatly attributed to Massie’s writing. He makes the monarchs accessible and their plight sympathetic. The fact that he personified remains that had been buried for decades and seemed to care about the outcome of the family is reflected in his narration. This captivating book is a great mystery in its own right.
Profile Image for Patricia.
631 reviews20 followers
October 9, 2016
After rereading the author's Nicholas and Alexandra (first published in 1967) I decided to pick this up for more on the Romanovs. It was published in 1995 and some significant discoveries were made after this date (including the discovery of the bones of Alexei and Maria). And the chapters on Anna Anderson (who thought herself Anastasia) and the Romanov relations got a little tedious. But Massie is an excellent writer and I learned more interesting details of the Romanov story.
Profile Image for Ashley Marie .
1,300 reviews394 followers
August 3, 2017
I found myself disappointed in this book; I probably would've been better off to have read Nicholas & Alexandra first. I appreciated the amount of time put into the detail of the forensic research. What I didn't like was the amount of time given to the imposters, particularly after it was revealed that they couldn't be who they said they were.
Profile Image for Abby Rose.
501 reviews41 followers
April 9, 2018
Okay, if more nonfiction was written like THIS, I would read more nonfiction. That's all it would take to pique my interest in the nonfiction genre. Just write MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS ONE! It's every bit as good as a novel when it's told like this!

This book was AMAZING. It was more than just a book of mere facts -- it was a journey. It was maddening, it was exciting, it was heartbreakingly sad, it was frustrating, it was EVERYTHING.

By the end, there were tears in my eyes as I read the last couple pages.

Massie starts out with the discovery of the Romanov bones. From there, we are launched breathlessly into the world of forensic science. There are intrigues, shocking results, backstabbing, political issues, you name it, IT HAPPENS HERE. Most tantalizing of all, much of it took place when I was a baby/young child, thus this is fairly recent history, which makes it especially engrossing for me personally. To think that while I was off at preschool, kneading playdough, when my biggest concern was if I'd get to watch Barney that afternoon, all this exciting, maddening stuff was happening with royal bones and jaded scientists!

From the bones, we move onto the Romanov imposters. Massie gives a good overview of the majority of them, so that one feels one got to know them as much as one needs to in order to understand everything in context, then focuses more on the most famous imposter, Anna Anderson. I learned a lot about her from this book that I actually, despite having an interest in her and having researched her before, didn't know. We even got a little bit about the polish peasant she once was, how she was the 'cleverest of four siblings' which is something I always wanted to know more about, so naturally I gobbled up those pages like candies.

Massie doesn't just leave it there, either, because we get a lot of Anderson aftermath with a lot of people and court trials, all of which was both exhausting and fascinating to read about.

We then learn about the remaining Romanov relatives and their feelings on Russia and the bones and various other relevant matters. As well as an overview of the current (well early 1990s, because of when this book was written) state of Russia and what it needs to move forward in the future.

Then, lest the reader get lost in the spinning topics and lose sight of what's important, the tragedy of what happened to those poor Romanovs, the book gently humanizes them again (not the easiest feat, perhaps, given how much time we spend pouring over their bones and bickering relatives and folks pretending to be them, but Massie pulls it off wonderfully) and brings us back to their final days.

Here is where I was moved to tears. We get a former guard confessing that his anger towards the tsar faded when he met the family in person and how desperately he began to wish they could escape, bits from Alexandra's diary as she frets over her beloved son's health and just sounds like such a devoted mother, and a poem dedicated to Tatiana and Olga.

This last chapter broke my heart in two, and it was the perfect way to wrap up the journey this book took me on.

Highly, highly recommended.
Profile Image for Babbs.
218 reviews70 followers
March 29, 2019
While I greatly enjoyed Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman and Peter the Great: His Life and World by this author, this felt less organized and in general was a less enjoyable read.

I believe I'll pick up Massie's other work on the couple, Nicholas and Alexandra, as it's length suggests more detail. It's likely unfair of me to compare this much shorter book to the two mentioned above, as it states outright that it covers only the final chapter, but having already read other novels by this same author, it did color my opinion and enjoyment of this book.

If you want a snapshot of the end of the Romanov's and the quest to find their final resting place, please don't let me dissuade you from picking this up. If you don't mind 1000 pages about a single person, when interested in their life, I'd steer clear of this one and instead pick up the book mentioned above.
Profile Image for Suanne Laqueur.
Author 25 books1,510 followers
December 7, 2020
Only disappointing thing about the book was that it ended before the last two bodies were found.
Profile Image for Rachel Jackson.
Author 2 books20 followers
December 30, 2013
I have no other person to credit for my interest in the Romanovs, Russian history and Russia itself than Robert K. Massie. I first read his book Nicholas and Alexandra when I was about seven years old, and although much of it was way over my head, it remained among my all-time favorites, and I've reread it numerous times over the years. The Final Chapter takes my interest a hundred times farther by finishing the story as best as Massie could in the 1990s post-Soviet collapse.

The Final Chapter reads as a historical account, a forensic examination, a journalistic investigation and a series of personal interviews all at once, with each of the four sections being focused on four somewhat different things — but each are closely intertwined in history and characters involved. It bridges a forensic and medical examination with the social struggle of the family and their descendants and relatives after decades of trauma and confusion.

Now, truthfully, I find it difficult to believe someone who hasn't read Nicholas and Alexandra or someone who isn't a Russian history buff would find this book particularly interesting, as it starts off directly after the July 17, 1918 execution of the Romanovs. It assumes the reader already knows what happened, and jumps right into the discovery of an investigation into their remains in the following years. The first section provides a completely fascinating forensic and anthropological account into how the bones and remains were found, uncovered, tested, identified, etc., all part of the complex story that verifies the Romanov deaths. This was by far the best section, as it went into excruciating detail about the DNA testing and disputes over who found the remains, when and where — all things I remember growing up hearing about!

The second major section concerns all of the Romanov impostors that emerged over the decades, particularly Anna Anderson but a handful of others, too. I found this section less interesting, because I already knew most of what happened with her, but also because it seemed most focused on the lawsuit to release Anderson's tissues from a Charlottesville hospital. This was all new information, which made it interesting, but the book spent too much time on all the complex relations and filings and injunctions from the court case — a case that ended up being dismissed. I would have much rather read about Anderson herself and the aftermath of the results of the DNA testing. Which Massie did go into some detail on, but not enough. (And again, a lot of that information still was withheld in both the Soviet era and after the USSR fell.)

The only other negative thing I would have to rate this book over is the fact that just a few years after its publication, more news regarding the Romanov remains erupted around the world. This certainly isn't Massie's fault; how could he have predicted the future? It's just a shame that so soon after this book was published scientists not only found and confirmed the two missing people's remains, but the entire family was canonized and Russia erected memorials for them both in Yekaterinburg and in Ganina Yama. I almost wish Massie would write just one more follow up on this, his "final" chapter of the Romanov saga, now that the mystery has almost entirely been solved.

And on that note, there will always be naysayers and skeptics, critics and doubters who bring the issue back up, whether it's "proof" that another person was a Romanov survivor or that they hold the claim to the throne now; there will always be stories that try to use the press and the public to legitimize them. But in-depth, well-researched books like The Final Chapter will always hold precedence for me, in the way they bring everything together in an almost journalistic sense. That is what was so refreshing about reading this book even compared to Nicholas and Alexandra: the latter was a very lyrical, almost poetic tale of two lovers who endured so much at the hands of the crown and their family. The former is an analytical, investigative piece that attempts to bring closure to an event that is already romanticized too much.

The book is extremely well done in every capacity. And when I finished, I had that indescribable feeling wash over me — you know the one, where you get completely overwhelmed by what you just read and feel like you have take a day or two to process everything. So much history and information packed into one little book. It's incredible.
Profile Image for Overbooked  ✎.
1,533 reviews
June 9, 2017
Warning: Not for the squeamish reader, this book contains detailed descriptions of the bodies of the murdered Tzar, his family and three of their loyal servants. When reading the passages related to the forensic analysis, I felt quite uncomfortable.

In 1918, news of the tragic death of the Romanov shocked the world, since then, many have tried to solve the mystery regarding what happened. The book tells the story in four parts: the first focuses on the search and identification of the human remains of the Romanovs. The second part is dedicated to the “pretenders”, the various people who claimed to be part of the Russian imperial family. The third deals with the surviving members of the Romanov extended family and the people who have a claim to the Russian title, while the final part very briefly summarises the final days of the family in the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg, where the murders took place.

I confess I didn’t read the book blurb properly, from the title alone I expected the history of the last years of the Tsar Nicholas II and his family and the historical and political scenario that lead to the murders. This book instead describes in full detail the arguments between team of scientists (driven by professional ambition and envy) to have access to the Romanov bones for forensic analysis, the fights between Russian local, state authorities and orthodox church over the same remains, the debate on the place where they should be put to rest, etc. The central (and a large part of the book) consists of the court battles for the rights to DNA testing to prove the identity of Anna Anderson, the woman considered by many to be princess Anastasia (the youngest of the Tsar daughters).

I found the first and the last parts interesting, but to my purposes, the book was largely irrelevant. I have read a biography of Catherine Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by the same author and I like his style, so I plan to read his other book Nicholas and Alexandra, which hopefully would give me more insights on the Russian imperial family.
Profile Image for Lynne.
201 reviews51 followers
July 2, 2014
The Romanovs chronicles the discovery and identification of nine sets of bones found in a shallow grave near Ekaterinburg, where Tsar Nicholas and his family spent their final days. Massie, author of Nicholas and Alexandra, had been very outspoken in renouncing all those who claimed to be the Tsarevich Alexei or the Grand Duchess Anastasia throughout the 20th century, so of course he had a keen interest in this find.

Several reviews criticize this book for lacking background information necessary for a person to understand what happened to the Russian royal family before their murder in the cellar at Ipatiev House. Doesn't the subtitle "The Final Chapter" give you a hint that the book will be picking up the story somewhere in its middle? Not a legitimate complaint, IMHO. Do some research on your own.

And my inner nerd totally dug on the squishy anthropological and DNA information shared as the detective work was being done. What horrified me was the sloppy manner in which the bones were handled. Temperance Brennan would not approve.

I'm not a royalist. Nicholas was somewhat weak and couldn't see the forest for the trees, but he and his family did not deserve to be gunned down in cold blood. Kaiser Wilhelm was given a country estate in England and lived out his life in relative comfort, unlike the millions of soldiers and civilians who died because of his megalomania.

Edit July 2, 2014: I have been informed that my information about the Kaiser's cushy postwar life is incorrect. I am okay with people pointing out errors, as long as it's done in a decorous manner. BRB
Profile Image for Kelley.
Author 1 book27 followers
April 4, 2017
Robert Massie's definitive biography, Nicholas and Alexandra, was written prior to the discovery of the remains of the Romanovs and their most devoted servants and doctor who were murdered by the Bolshevists in 1918. This book, The Final Chapter, highlights the challenges faced in identifying the remains, including the views of competing interests who either wanted or didn't want the remains to be identified. This book was is a logical follow-up to Massie's classic biography of the Imperial couple since it completes the telling of their tragic story. He also details the story of pretenders who claimed to be Romanovs but weren't. Yet, there were some flaws with this book. I felt that Massie had his own interests in the results when he reported the final courtroom drama where he was present. The way he described the scene seemed to indicate which side he favored, which shattered the impartial perspective he presented throughout the rest of the book. I also didn't like the introductory chapter which repeated almost word for word the final part of his Nicholas and Alexandra book. I felt that was kind of academically lazy, since this book was written several decades after its so-called prequel. Still it's a good companion to the earlier book and helps complete the story of the tragic Romanovs, and it's fitting the author who is the undeniable expert on that family should complete the tale.
Profile Image for Maan Kawas.
733 reviews61 followers
October 29, 2014
A very beautiful book that provides lots of details about the final night in the life of Tsar Nicholas II Romanov and his family and the few others were with them, the murder of the family in 1918 and its aftermath, and the discovery of nine of the eleven bodies of the Romanov family (the other two were discovered in 2007), and the following scientific investigations. The book is a kind of detailed account of the investigations (forensic, lab test, DNA, etc..) took place in order to find and identify the discovered bones, in a period that lasted for too many years.
I first read Massie’s book Nicholas and Alexandra years ago, and I find this book as an important addition to that great book. The first chapter is a powerful one, which describes the horrific night of July 16/17, in 1918, and provides a vivid picture of the murder. The final chapter is very sad and moving too, which includes some lines of the Tsar’s and Tsaritsa’s diary. Massie added some interesting chapters on the imposters, claimants, and pretenders, of which the most known was Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the last daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, Anastasia, whose case made a big debate for years. The book also reveals the numerous challenges the research found during their investigations, including the limitations of some scientific procedures. A great book indeed.
Profile Image for Laura.
393 reviews5 followers
December 2, 2016
I have long had a fascination with the Imperial Romanov family of Russia. I first encountered the history of the last Tsar many years ago through Robert Massie's book 'Nicholas and Alexandra'. In the past several years, many gorgeous books have been published, full of photos. I can hardly resist the opportunity to lose myself in the magnificent art, architecture, costume, and other details of the time. Every once in a while, I choose a book that takes me back to these times and enhances my learning.

This book recounts both the final days of the lives of the Romanov family and the events that followed over the next 75 years. In bloody detail, the executions are chronicled. The botched burials. The raging Russian revolution and the costs to the people of the country. The mystery surrounding the total disappearance of the family is eventually uncovered (some details after the publication of this book), followed by the search for a scientific certainty. Also included are extensive details of a number of imposters and claimants to the throne.

In true Massie style, no fact is unchecked and each thread is followed to a conclusive end. If you're new to this historical story, though, I suggest you begin with a more basic account. Or a photo-biography!
Profile Image for Matthew.
323 reviews53 followers
March 5, 2017

Such an intricately written, researched and thought-out novel, from the byzantine mind of Pulitzer-Prize winning author Robert K. Massie. The start drags a little (I mean, this is quite literally a book all about the methods of which the Romanov family were buried and the long process to identify the bones) but it eventually picks up, when Massie begins to chronicle the curious case of Anna Anderson/Anastasia Manahan and all the other charlatans/mentally ill people convinced they were one of the Romanov children. There's the debate around whether this book is pretty much invalid now after the twenty-something years since its publication and all the facts and info that aren't included in the book which are now acknowledged facts, but overall it doesn't take away from the enjoyment factor - plus it made me feel very knowledgable and intelligent reading a book of its daedal complexity.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,617 reviews136 followers
January 28, 2015
I've always had a bit of fascination about the Romanovs, especially the fact that there are so many who claimed to be the children. My dad suggested that I might like this book, especially if I was interested in the imposter piece since a large chunk of the book focuses on those individuals.

I found this book to be very informative and I feel like it gave me a great sense of what took place and how everything flowed from that. There was so much detail explored in this book, that it sometimes even felt too detailed.

If you have interest in this family, what happened when they were executed and how it was possible that so many claimed to be members of this family, this is probably the perfect book for you! If you aren't interested in any of that, this book won't be particularly interesting to you!
Profile Image for Becky.
307 reviews20 followers
March 18, 2017
I got this book from the library thinking it would be about the final chapter of the lives of the Romanovs. Instead, it was about the final chapter of their deaths. That of course is my own fault for not figuring out what the book was before borrowing it from the library. But despite my surprise at the premise and the book not being quite what I was looking for, I found it really interesting. Solving this mystery with science and history had a lot more interpersonal drama and races to hold press conferences and subjective interpretation than I would have realized, and it was written to really bring these dramas alive -- both interpersonally and politically. This book wasn't what I was looking for, but I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for Wendy.
398 reviews57 followers
November 21, 2015
Kind of gruesome in some parts, although you probably won't think so if you're a fan of CSI or NCIS or any of those forensic crime shows. Also, it was published before some of the mysteries were solved or certain things were decided, even though people were in the process, and it hasn't been updated to include the solutions to any of the situations, if any. Other than that, it's really interesting, and in most cases, each person's point of view is represented fully and objectively. I enjoyed learning some of the in-depth details of the exhumation and subsequent issues that I hadn't previously known or understood.
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