"Nicholas and Alexandra"

Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

This account of the last Zsar and his family begins in 1894 and ends in 1918, but there are lots of stories from before that time filling out this jam-packed account of Russia's fascinating, if sometimes bloody, history. All I'd ever read was bad Zsar/good peasants accounts in school books, but knowing nothing is ever that simple I wanted to learn more. This book, published in 1967, looked intimidating but was instead a riveting story that kept me up reading late into the nights. What I thought was just another history book turned out to be so very much more.

Massie is truly a great writer. He makes history come alive and lets the reader feel like it's all happening to them, now. He has done extensive research, sources listed chapter by chapter at the back of the book, and shows us the Imperial family from all sides, good, bad, and ordinary. He takes us into their personal relationship as husband and wife, and their day-to-day family life with their five children. Knowing how the story ends makes it all the more poignant and real.

I learned more about Russian and European history than I ever expected to get from any book and the exceptional thing about it is that it never gets boring. Massie's writing is conversational, easy to read,  and grippingly interesting, even the political and military parts which can easily become dry when it's told only in facts and dates. When Massie relates a fact, he tells you about the people involved, who they were and why they did what they did, so you get not just the facts but an understanding of the situation. This is what draws you in and keeps you hooked.

As I got toward the end, after getting to know this family and what makes them tick, I didn't know if I could make myself read what was coming. I did decide to see it through and was relieved to see it told simply and quickly, without any of the long, drawn out sensationalizing of tragedy so prevalent in today's story telling. Now I'm putting off watching the movie, afraid they won't have shown the same restraint. Maybe one of you can tell me if I should watch it.

At the back of the book there are family trees for both Nicholas and Alexandra that were incredibly helpful, and the insides of both covers are maps of Russia so you can locate the different areas where the story is played out. There is also a section of family photographs in the book's center that I found myself referring to again and again. A couple of interesting things I learned from the family trees: 1. Queen Victoria is great great Grandmother to both Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. 2. At the time of WW1, the King of England, The German Kaiser and the Zsar of Russia were all first cousins. In fact, just about all of Europe's royalty were and are related through Queen Victoria's offspring.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. If you like history or family sagas; politics, royalty, biography or intrigue; or even if you just want to get lost in a good (and true) story, I think you'll find what you're looking for in Nicholas and Alexandra.


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