The best books on the Romanovs and the Reign of Tsar Nicholas II

Julia P. Gelardi Author Of From Splendor to Revolution
By Julia P. Gelardi

Who am I?

Julia P. Gelardi has obtained a Master’s degree in History and spent many years immersed in the world of European royal history. The author of numerous articles and seven books on European royalty, three of which have been published by St. Martin’s Press, Julia has done extensive research in various archives, including the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle. She continues to search the world for elusive books on royalty to add to her library and is always on the lookout for new topics to write about and share with her readers.

I wrote...

From Splendor to Revolution

By Julia P. Gelardi,

Book cover of From Splendor to Revolution

What is my book about?

This sweeping saga recreates the extraordinary opulence and violence of Tsarist Russia as the shadow of revolution fell over the land, and destroyed a way of life for these Imperial women. The early 1850s until the late 1920s marked a turbulent and significant era for Russia. During that time the country underwent a massive transformation, taking it from days of grandeur under the tsars to the chaos of revolution and the beginnings of the Soviet Union.

At the center of all this tumult were four women of the Romanov dynasty. Marie Alexandrovna and Olga Constantinovna were born into the family, Russian Grand Duchesses at birth. Marie Feodorovna and Marie Pavlovna married into the dynasty, the former born a Princess of Denmark, the latter a Duchess of the German duchy of Mecklendburg-Schwerin.

The books I picked & why

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

By Robert K. Massie,

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

Why this book?

First published in 1967 and received with great acclaim, the book is considered the classic account of Russia’s last Tsar and Tsarina. In his riveting chronicle of the life and reign of Tsar Nicholas II (reigned1894-1917), Massie’s emphasis is on the imperial couple and their family and the high drama surrounding their son and heir, Tsarevich Alexis, whose hemophilia was a constant cause of great anxiety. The sickly heir’s battle with the incurable disease, his mother’s reliance on Rasputin for help, and Tsar Nicholas II’s devotion to his family all make for compelling reading.

Massie was drawn to write about Nicholas and Alexandra and their son’s struggle with hemophilia as Massie, too, had a son who suffered from hemophilia, lending the book an especially poignant note. Nicholas & Alexandra introduced millions to the moving story of Russia’s last imperial family. The book was adapted into a successful motion picture with the same title. Massie’s taut and elegant prose results in a masterful account that captures the beauty and tragedy surrounding the lives of Tsar Nicholas, Tsarina Alexandra, and their family. Nicholas & Alexandra remains an indisputable classic in the annals of late imperial Russia.

The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Book cover of The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias

Why this book?

A comprehensive and lengthy study of the three-hundred-year rule of the Romanov dynasty, with particular attention paid to the reign of Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II. Lincoln, who was a professor of Russian history at Northern Illinois University, succeeds in bringing to life the sweeping saga of the Romanovs from their beginning in the seventeenth century with the accession to the throne of Michael I to the end with the abdication of Nicholas II in 1917 and onwards to the executions of the imperial family in 1918.

The Romanovs can be treated as both a general reference book for Romanov and imperial Russian history or as a starting point from which to delve further into specific subjects such as a particular reigning Russian monarch or historical event. Lincoln has produced a cogent, solidly researched work that succeeds in making the sometimes impenetrable and complex histories of Russia’s tsars much more comprehensible and accessible. Here in one volume is a thorough, detailed introduction to the famous dynasty and Russian history as it relates to the Romanovs.

The Last Grand Duchess: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna

By Ian Vorres,

Book cover of The Last Grand Duchess: Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna

Why this book?

A skillfully written account and engaging portrait of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna (1882-1960), younger sister of Tsar Nicholas II. Olga Alexandrovna’s life was no less dramatic than that of her brother, Nicholas II. Daughter, granddaughter, and sister to Russian emperors, Olga – a woman devoid of vanity and imbued with a strong faith – lived a life that could never be replicated. Immersed in the splendors of the Russian court, Olga also suffered through the Russian Revolution, and ultimately left Russia for a life of exile in Denmark and Canada. The Last Grand Duchess is Olga’s memoirs as told to Ian Vorres whose deft presentation of her story is to be applauded. Published in 1965, The Last Grand Duchess not only delves into Olga’s life but that of her family and other historical figures and brings a unique insight into the last Romanovs and Tsar Nicholas II in particular.

In trying to convince Olga to share her story with the world, Vorres told her that what she could tell would be of “immense worth.” He was right; and Vorres has done posterity a service, presenting Olga and her world in an objective light. Her first-hand account of the last decades of imperial Russia make for riveting reading and give us a clearer and vivid understanding of individuals and events, both famous and long forgotten. Grand Duchess Olga died in 1960 in exile in Toronto, having witnessed the tumultuous reign of her brother and the fall of her beloved Russia.

A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story

By Sergei Mironenko, Andrei Maylunas,

Book cover of A Lifelong Passion: Nicholas and Alexandra: Their Own Story

Why this book?

An indispensable work to anyone interested in the Romanovs, and especially in the life and reign of Tsar Nicholas II. Here, in their own words from diaries and letters are the thoughts and inner-most feelings of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Tsarina Alexandra, as well as numerous royal relatives – though the main focus is on Nicholas and Alexandra. Through these written words, the imperial couple and their families are revealed; they’re given a voice and come alive across more than six hundred pages of text. Interspersed as well are a variety of primary sources such as memoirs, documents, diplomatic letters, and the like. But it is the letters and diaries which take center stage and deliver an emotional read.

Russian historians Maylunas and Mironenko (he was Director of the State Archive of the Russian Federation) have done an admirable job of culling through an enormous amount of material to come up with this large, valuable volume of first-hand accounts that highlight the happiness and tragedy that surrounded the last Romanovs. It is a work, as noted by the Maylunas and Mironenko, that lets the royal individuals “tell their story themselves, in their own words.”

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court: A Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Tsar Nicholas II, and His Family

By Pierre Gilliard,

Book cover of Thirteen Years at the Russian Court: A Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Tsar Nicholas II, and His Family

Why this book?

This is the personal account of the family of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra as told by their children’s French-language tutor. Gilliard, who spent the years 1905-1918 in the bosom of the imperial family, came to know the family well, and hence had nearly unprecedented access to them. Gilliard succeeds in fleshing out the personalities of the ill-fated family who were devoted to each other, to God, and to Russia. He also highlights in vivid detail the impact of the Tsarevich Alexis’s hemophilia on him, his family, and most especially his distraught mother. Thanks to Gilliard, we come to understand the impact Rasputin had on the Tsarina and her hemophiliac son, whose illness was a closely guarded secret.

The Swiss-born Gilliard notes in his book that he was so “appalled” by the countless “absurdities and falsehoods” written about Nicholas II and his family that he was compelled to “rehabilitate the moral character of the Russian sovereigns” – the result is this moving account of the Tsar’s life and that of the imperial family. Gilliard was with them through the days of power down to the collapse of the empire. He admirably shared the family’s life of exile and recounts with poignancy and admiration their dignity and courage amidst great difficulties and humiliations. Thirteen Years at the Russian Court is essential reading for those seeking to gain insights into Nicholas and Alexandra and their family.

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