The best books on the Russian Empire

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the Russian Empire and why they recommend each book.

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The Fate of the Romanovs

By Greg King, Penny Wilson,

Book cover of The Fate of the Romanovs

This is a comprehensive account of what happened to Nicholas, Alexandra, and their family from the fall of the monarchy to their last days in Ekaterinburg. It covers fully all the details of their confinement, their brutal murder, the discovery of the Romanov grave outside Ekaterinburg in 1989, and the controversy over the bones, using many previously unpublished Russian archival documents. If you think you know what happened, then read this because there are some surprising revelations.

The Fate of the Romanovs

By Greg King, Penny Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Fate of the Romanovs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Abundant, newly discovered sources shatter long-held beliefs

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 revealed, among many other things, a hidden wealth of archival documents relating to the imprisonment and eventual murder of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children. Emanating from sources both within and close to the Imperial Family as well as from their captors and executioners, these often-controversial materials have enabled a new and comprehensive examination of one the pivotal events of the twentieth century and the many controversies that surround it.

Based on a careful analysis of more than 500 of these previously…

Who am I?

I developed a fascination for Imperial Russia in childhood when I learned that my great-grandmother was born in St Petersburg, an almost exact contemporary of Nicholas II. I have studied the Romanovs and Imperial Russia for over 40 years and lectured in England (including the Victoria & Albert Museum), America, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Russia. My many books include To Free the Romanovs and Queen Victoria and the Romanovs.


I wrote...

Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

By Coryne Hall,

Book cover of Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

What is my book about?

Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia lived one of the most dramatic lives of anyone to mount the steps of the Russian throne. Her husband Alexander III died in his prime and two of her sons died young. During the First World War she watched in despair as her son Nicholas II refused to heed her advice and the country she loved was governed by her daughter-in-law Empress Alexandra and Rasputin, with disastrous results. In the revolution that followed she lost two of her sons and five of her grandchildren, murdered by the Bolsheviks. She escaped on a British warship having lost her home, her country, her church and many of her family. She died in her native Denmark – the tragic relic of a bygone age.

Land of the Firebird

By Suzanne Massie,

Book cover of Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia

To understand Imperial Russia, you have to understand its culture. From the early days of conversion to Christianity in 987, through to Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, Suzanne Massie takes us on a wonderful journey through the customs and culture of this enigmatic land. We see the colourful markets and fairs, the carnival season and the traditions of Easter and Christmas, as well as the great artists, composers, writers, and dancers that Russia has produced. This is one of the most beautiful (and useful) books I have ever bought.

Land of the Firebird

By Suzanne Massie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Land of the Firebird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Details the history of Russia from the religious revolution of 987 to the political revolution of 1917, graphically describing Russia's political and cultural environments under Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great

Who am I?

I developed a fascination for Imperial Russia in childhood when I learned that my great-grandmother was born in St Petersburg, an almost exact contemporary of Nicholas II. I have studied the Romanovs and Imperial Russia for over 40 years and lectured in England (including the Victoria & Albert Museum), America, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Russia. My many books include To Free the Romanovs and Queen Victoria and the Romanovs.


I wrote...

Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

By Coryne Hall,

Book cover of Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

What is my book about?

Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia lived one of the most dramatic lives of anyone to mount the steps of the Russian throne. Her husband Alexander III died in his prime and two of her sons died young. During the First World War she watched in despair as her son Nicholas II refused to heed her advice and the country she loved was governed by her daughter-in-law Empress Alexandra and Rasputin, with disastrous results. In the revolution that followed she lost two of her sons and five of her grandchildren, murdered by the Bolsheviks. She escaped on a British warship having lost her home, her country, her church and many of her family. She died in her native Denmark – the tragic relic of a bygone age.

A Public Empire

By Ekaterina Pravilova,

Book cover of A Public Empire: Property and the Quest for the Common Good in Imperial Russia

This is a remarkable book that defies categorization. Establishing a concept of property that existed between private property and the property of the state, Pravilova imaginatively unites a seemingly unrelated collection of topics: forests, rivers, icons, copyright, archaeological treasures, and much more besides. She offers a profoundly new way of thinking about property and about Russians’ attitudes towards ownership. Deeply rooted in the particularities of Russia, the book also raises issues of universal significance.

A Public Empire

By Ekaterina Pravilova,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Public Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Property rights" and "Russia" do not usually belong in the same sentence. Rather, our general image of the nation is of insecurity of private ownership and defenselessness in the face of the state. Many scholars have attributed Russia's long-term development problems to a failure to advance property rights for the modern age and blamed Russian intellectuals for their indifference to the issues of ownership. A Public Empire refutes this widely shared conventional wisdom and analyzes the emergence of Russian property regimes from the time of Catherine the Great through World War I and the revolutions of 1917. Most importantly, A…


Who am I?

I have been studying Russia and its history for over 30 years and find that it continues to intrigue me. Having previously focused my attention on religion and its imperial dimensions (including The Tsar’s Foreign Faiths, with Oxford University Press in 2014), I have more recently sought to understand the importance of Russia’s nineteenth century and I am now exploring the history of Russia’s territory with a view to writing a history of the longest border in the world. I teach at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.


I wrote...

1837: Russia's Quiet Revolution

By Paul W. Werth,

Book cover of 1837: Russia's Quiet Revolution

What is my book about?

Historians often think of Russia before the 1860s in terms of conservative stasis, when the "gendarme of Europe" secured order beyond the country's borders and entrenched the autocratic system at home. This book offers a profoundly different vision.

Drawing on an extensive array of sources, it reveals that many of modern Russia's most distinctive and outstanding features can be traced back to 1837, a seemingly inconspicuous but in fact exceptional year. From the romantic death of Russia's greatest poet Alexander Pushkin in January to a colossal fire at the Winter Palace in December, Russia experienced much that was astonishing in 1837. The cumulative effect was profound. The country's integration accelerated, and a Russian nation began to emerge, embodied in new institutions and practices, within the larger empire. The result was a quiet revolution, after which Russia would never be the same.

Tsarina

By Ellen Alpsten,

Book cover of Tsarina

Empress Catherine the Great immediately comes to mind when referring to women who ruled Russia. In Tsarina, however, author Alpsten focuses on Catherine Alexeyevna, the wife of Peter the Great, who rose to power in the early 18th century. Born into devastating poverty, Catherine is a woman who holds her cards close and plays them judiciously. She seduces Peter, revels in the riches and debauchery of the Russian court, and emerges not only as his wife, but a linchpin to Russia's future when Peter dies. This is an extraordinary tale of a powerful and intelligent woman often ignored in history.

Tsarina

By Ellen Alpsten,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tsarina as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme." —Daisy Goodwin, New York Times bestselling author of The Fortune Hunter

“[Alpsten] recounts this remarkable woman’s colourful life and times." —Count Nikolai Tolstoy, historian and author

Before there was Catherine the Great, there was Catherine Alexeyevna: the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. Ellen Alpsten's rich, sweeping debut novel is the story of her rise to power.

St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty…


Who am I?

The Romanov saga has intrigued me since I was an undergraduate student in history many moons ago. Three hundred years of Romanov rule were filled with exotic beauty, violence, and tragedy. I went on to teach Russian history at university and was able to share some of the stories of the tsars and tsarinas with my students. Having authored books and articles in my academic field, my teaching career has ended. Now it is historical fiction that has captured my imagination and spurred me to pen my own novels set in 19th-century Africa and Afghanistan, as well as Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible.


I wrote...

The Tsar's Locket

By Ken Czech,

Book cover of The Tsar's Locket

What is my book about?

Julian Blunt, a former sea captain and a despised Catholic, is stunned when Queen Elizabeth proposes that he help carry a betrothal locket to Tsar Ivan the Terrible in Moscow. It means an alliance between England and Russia is brewing. Should the locket fall into the hands of the Pope, it could mean war.

Julian joins the queen's messenger, the spirited Jessandra Calcross, in a perilous journey into the heart of Russia. Stalked by a papal assassin determined to prevent the royal marriage, Julian is soon torn between safeguarding Jess and fulfilling his vow to the queen. If he fails the queen he'll never captain a ship again. But if he and Jess continue on to Moscow, they face a darker peril in Tsar Ivan.

Romanoff Gold

By William Clarke,

Book cover of Romanoff Gold

This is an updated version of William Clarke’s Lost Fortune of the Tsars with additional information added since first publication. It gives a detailed, comprehensive account of the immense wealth of the Imperial family before the revolution and what happened to the money, jewels, palaces, and other riches in the chaos that followed. Faced with bank confidentiality and reluctance to talk, it reads like a detective story as the author investigates bank accounts, vaults, and jewels spirited away. The result is a fascinating account of what belonged to the Tsar’s family and what belonged to the state.

Romanoff Gold

By William Clarke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Romanoff Gold as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When World War I broke out in 1914 Russia's Romanov dynasty was among the world's richest families. Yet ever since the Bolsheviks executed Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra and their children at Ekaterinburg, the mystery of what happened to their wealth has remained unsolved. This book is an account of the authors' answers to the Tsar's lost fortune.

Who am I?

I developed a fascination for Imperial Russia in childhood when I learned that my great-grandmother was born in St Petersburg, an almost exact contemporary of Nicholas II. I have studied the Romanovs and Imperial Russia for over 40 years and lectured in England (including the Victoria & Albert Museum), America, Denmark, The Netherlands, and Russia. My many books include To Free the Romanovs and Queen Victoria and the Romanovs.


I wrote...

Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

By Coryne Hall,

Book cover of Little Mother of Russia: A Biography of Empress Marie Feodorovna

What is my book about?

Empress Marie Feodorovna of Russia lived one of the most dramatic lives of anyone to mount the steps of the Russian throne. Her husband Alexander III died in his prime and two of her sons died young. During the First World War she watched in despair as her son Nicholas II refused to heed her advice and the country she loved was governed by her daughter-in-law Empress Alexandra and Rasputin, with disastrous results. In the revolution that followed she lost two of her sons and five of her grandchildren, murdered by the Bolsheviks. She escaped on a British warship having lost her home, her country, her church and many of her family. She died in her native Denmark – the tragic relic of a bygone age.

Book cover of The Bathhouse at Midnight: An Historical Survey of Magic and Divination in Russia

I chose this book because it is such a wide-ranging compendium of Russian folk beliefs in general (in English!) as well as of Russian customs involved in trying to ensure the fertility and health of crops, farm animals, and women, all desperately needed for the survival of the community. It is these fascinating and picturesque customs that so often get incorporated into dances. Furthermore, the Dancing Goddesses were often pressed into service for divination of the future, especially by young girls worrying about whom they would marry and how many children they would have, or if they would die first. (I accidentally witnessed one of these ceremonies in Danzig in 1993—they have not died!)

The Bathhouse at Midnight

By W.F. Ryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Bathhouse at Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The title of this book refers to the classic time and place for magic, witchcraft, and divination in Russia. The Bathhouse at Midnight, by one of the world's foremost experts on the subject, surveys all forms of magic, both learned and popular, in Russia from the fifth to the eighteenth century. While no book on the subject could be exhaustive, The Bathhouse at Midnight does describe and assess all the literary sources of magic, witchcraft, astrology, alchemy, and divination from Kiev Rus and Imperial Russia, and to some extent Ukraine and Belorussia. Where possible, Ryan identifies the sources of the…


Who am I?

I’m an information junkie who loves to dance. I fell in love with folk dancing at age 6, European archaeology at 11, linguistics and cognition at 21—and could never drop any of them. My scientist-father always said, “Follow the problem, not the discipline,” and I began to see how these fields could help answer each other’s questions. Words can survive for millennia—with information about what archaeologists don’t find, like oh-so-perishable cloth. Determining how to reconstruct prehistoric textiles (Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years) then led me to trace the origins of various European folk costumes, and finally even to reconstruct something about the origins of the dances themselves.


I wrote...

The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance

By Elizabeth Wayland Barber,

Book cover of The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance

What is my book about?

European communal dance developed around farming beliefs about fertility and health, when farming spread to Europe 8,000 years ago. Food crops depended on soil and rain: the ancestors, buried below, could push up the sprouts, but who managed rain? Perhaps the spirits of girls who died before bearing children (many by drowning) and hadn’t used their natural allotment of fertility. Dance rituals appeased spirit-maidens when angry, and told them when it was time to leave their watery homes and shed fertility by dancing across the fields. My book traces traditional seasonal rituals, folklore of the dancing spirit-maidens, wedding customs around those most potent maidens, Brides, plus the matching archaeological evidence, concluding with insights from cognitive science on “Why do we humans just love to dance?”

The Forged Coupon

By Leo Tolstoy,

Book cover of The Forged Coupon: and Other Stories

Tolstoy describes and plays with religious experiences across various of his novels. He doesn’t take them for granted: the initial enthusiasm and prospect of personal change seldom leads to real transformation. Here, though, in one of his last writings, we follow the contagious spell of true conversion of heart. When a serial murderer meets a pure soul his self is transformed and goes on to change the life of others. 

The Forged Coupon

By Leo Tolstoy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forged Coupon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Leo Tolstoy (September 9, 1828 – November 20, 1910) was a Russian writer who earned fame and global renown for his novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Writing during the late 19th century, Tolstoy lived during a literary period in which Realism flourished, and today his two novels are considered the apex of realist fiction. Tolstoy is also known for his complex and somewhat paradoxical persona, holding both moralistic and ascetic views during the final decades of his life.

Who am I?

From about the age of 14, I have been exploring how unusual ideas and experiences might change a person’s life. This led me to become an author and experimental psychologist studying the effects of religious beliefs, rituals, and meditation exercises on our minds and bodies. I have spent a good part of the last 4 years putting together a book which tries to answer many of my questions on the varieties of meditation practices around the world.   


I wrote...

The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

By Miguel Farias, David Brazier, Mansur Lalljee

Book cover of The Oxford Handbook of Meditation

What is my book about?

This is the most comprehensive volume published on meditation, written in accessible language by world-leading experts on the science and history of these techniques. It covers the development of meditation across the world and the varieties of its practices and experiences. These are some of the questions it addresses: what were meditation practices developed for and by whom? How similar or different are they, how effective can they be in changing our minds and biology, and what are their social and ethical implications?

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