The best books about the tsar of Russia

Many authors have picked their favorite books about the tsar of Russia and why they recommend each book.

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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

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…

Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

By Pierre Gilliard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Thirteen Years at the Russian Court as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In September 1905 Pierre Gilliard entered Tsar Nicholas II’s household as the French tutor of Duchesses Olga Nicolaievna and Tatiana Nicolaievna.

He would go on to spend a further thirteen years in the close company of the Romanov family.

Within that time he would be a witness to one of the most remarkable and tragic events of modern history as a close-knit family was torn apart and executed in the midst of the Revolution.

But this book is more than simply an eyewitness account of the Revolution.

As one of the books early reviews notes, Gilliard ‘had unusual opportunities of…


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 War That Ended Peace

By Margaret MacMillan,

Book cover of The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914

If we are not killer apes, if war is not inevitable, how does it happen? Obviously because people were not up to the challenges of maintaining peace. Margaret MacMillan’s riveting account of the events leading up to the Great War, the First World War, shows in all-too-clear detail how not to go about avoiding war. The German Kaiser, Wilhelm, was petty and boastful and altogether too proud and confident of his totally inadequate abilities. The Tsar of Russia, Nicholas, was cut from the same cloth. But whereas Wilhelm made up his mind quickly and then was unmovable, Nicholas could never make up his mind. Between them, helped by other inadequates in places of high status and power, millions of young men lay dead on the fields of Flanders, in Northern France.

The War That Ended Peace

By Margaret MacMillan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War That Ended Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER of the International Affairs Book of the Year at the Political Book Awards 2014Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013
The First World War followed a period of sustained peace in Europe during which people talked with confidence of prosperity, progress and hope. But in 1914, Europe walked into a catastrophic conflict which killed millions of its men, bled its economies dry, shook empires and societies to pieces, and fatally undermined Europe's dominance of the world. It was a war which could have been avoided up to the last moment-so why did it happen?
Beginning in the early nineteenth…


Who am I?

I was raised a Quaker in England in the years after the Second World War. Quakers don’t have creeds, but they have strong beliefs about such things as the immorality of war. In the 1950s there was also huge prejudice, particularly against homosexuality which was then illegal. Issues like these gnawed at me throughout my 55-year career as a philosophy professor. Now 82 and finally retired, I'm turning against the problems of war and prejudice, applying much that I've learnt in my career as a philosopher interested in evolutionary theory, most particularly Charles Darwin. For this reason, intentionally, Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict is aimed at the general reader.  


I wrote...

Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

By Michael Ruse,

Book cover of Why We Hate: Understanding the Roots of Human Conflict

What is my book about?

Human nature is paradoxical. Thanks to our leaving the jungle some five or so million years ago, we became bipedal and, from this, hunter-gathers, living in groups of about fifty far from others. The emphasis was on cooperation, and to this end, we started the progress of our brains from the size of our fellow higher primates (400cc) to the size we have today (1300cc). We developed sophisticated adaptations promoting solidarity, notably language.

Then about 10,000 years ago, agriculture arrived on the scene  At once, population numbers started to explode upwards, and with this came war. Before agriculture, the emphasis was on ingroup cooperation. Now it was more on outgroup hostility. In the case of prejudice, knowledge can right much. As with war, we can set about reducing prejudice.

Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of Crime and Punishment

This book may seem a little off-putting at first glance (a Russian novel, long and tedious!), but don’t be timid about taking this novel in hand and plowing headlong into it with the gusto of a James Cain crime thriller. To be clear, Crime and Punishment is mesmerizing and represents the prototype for nearly every crime novel that followed it. Some of my favorite scenes are the interrogations the chief magistrate conducts with the killer. The reader knows Raskolnikov is guilty but the cat-and-mouse dialogues between them are as fresh and intense as anything you’ll lay your eyes on. The quintessential crime novel and a must for fans of this or any other genre.

Crime and Punishment

By Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Crime and Punishment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hailed by Washington Post Book World as “the best [translation] currently available" when it was first published, this second edition has been updated in honor of the 200th anniversary of Dostoevsky’s birth.

With the same suppleness, energy, and range of voices that won their translation of The Brothers Karamazov the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky offer a brilliant translation of Dostoevsky's astounding pyschological thriller, newly revised for his bicentenniel. 

When Raskolnikov, an impoverished student living in the St. Petersburg of the tsars, commits an act of murder and theft, he sets into motion a story that is…


Who am I?

I have some insight into the crime fiction genre that's unique. After graduating from Georgetown University I desperately wanted a job as a writer. Unfortunately, it was in the midst of a deep recession, and being $40,000 in debt with college loans decided to take a job that would help pay bills and give me insight into the criminal mind and the detectives that chase them for my literary endeavors. I became a deputy sheriff in Arlington, VA, transporting federal criminals from Washington, D.C. to sundry institutions. It was then that my writing career began in earnest as I started publishing stories about the crimes, criminals, and detectives I worked with in True Detective magazine.


I wrote...

A Man of Indeterminate Value

By Ron Felber,

Book cover of A Man of Indeterminate Value

What is my book about?

In a world plagued by corrupt corporations, institutions gone haywire, and sinister forces that prowl the global landscape, Jack Madson needs to escape his own demons. Trapped in a hate-filled marriage, a job he despises, and the mountain of debt his wife has racked up, he’s crafted a plan. He’ll fake his own death–simultaneously winning a large insurance payout for his family and paving the way for his getaway to Mexico. There, he’ll create a new life with the proceeds he’s been amassing from illegally selling intellectual property to criminal investors in China. But Madson’s plan goes dangerously wrong. Chock full of action, sex, and the author’s unique perspective on global business, A Man of Indeterminate Value is a tour de force that will grab readers from its first page.

The Romanovs

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Book cover of The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russias

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…

The Romanovs

By W. Bruce Lincoln,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Traces the history of the Romanov dynasty of Russia from the 1613 accession to the throne of Michael Feodorovich Romanov to the deaths of the last Romanovs during the Russian Revolution


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.

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

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…

The Last Grand Duchess

By Ian Vorres,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When she died in exile in 1960, Olga Alexandrovna was the last Grand Duchess of Russia, the favorite sister of Czar Nicholas II who was executed with his wife and five children during the Revolution. Born in splendor difficult to imagine today, she endured a lifetime of relentless tragedy with courage and exceptional powers of adjustment.

The Last Grand Duchess is a valuable account of the final decades of the house of Romanov as seen through the eyes of its last surviving member. Through Olga, we meet Queen Victoria, George V of England, Rasputin, Mrs. Anderson - on whose story…


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.

Stalin

By Simon Sebag Montefiore,

Book cover of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar

Sebag Montefiore was the first western historian to really take advantage of the opening of Russian – and Georgian – archival sources on Stalin and his career. Court of the Red Tsar offers a precious glimpse into Stalin’s inner circle and the way the USSR was governed in the 1930s and 1940s. Although gossipy at times, and written in a popular style some professional historians resent, the book is deeply researched and a treasure trove of information which is hard to find elsewhere.

Stalin

By Simon Sebag Montefiore,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the British Book Awards History Book of the Year

Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize

This thrilling biography of Stalin and his entourage during the terrifying decades of his supreme power transforms our understanding of Stalin as Soviet dictator, Marxist leader and Russian tsar.

Based on groundbreaking research, Simon Sebag Montefiore reveals in captivating detail the fear and betrayal, privilege and debauchery, family life and murderous cruelty of this secret world. Written with extraordinary narrative verve, this magnificent feat of scholarly research has become a classic of modern history writing. Showing how Stalin's triumphs and crimes were the…


Who am I?

In 1992, I graduated high school and although I did not then know how to read or speak Russian, I interviewed six Soviet veterans who happened to live in a nursing home in Rochester NY. I was blown away by their stories; each was missing at least one limb and had a tale to tell about it. The timing was fortuitous in that there was an exhibition at the U.S. Library of Congress that summer on “Revelations from the Russian archives,” which has just opened to researchers. Although it took me some years to master Russian, I resolved then and there to go to the source and research Soviet history in Moscow itself. I am a historian now and I have been working in Moscow archives for nearly a quarter-century now. Stalin’s War is my eighth book to date, all of which draw on this work in the Russian archives.


I wrote...

Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

By Sean McMeekin,

Book cover of Stalin's War: A New History of World War II

What is my book about?

World War II endures in the popular imagination as a heroic struggle between good and evil, with villainous Hitler driving its events. But Hitler was not in power when the conflict erupted in Asia--and he was certainly dead before it ended. His armies did not fight in multiple theaters, his empire did not span the Eurasian continent, and he did not inherit any of the spoils of war. That central role belonged to Joseph Stalin. The Second World War was not Hitler's war; it was Stalin's war.

Drawing on ambitious new research in Soviet, European, and US archives, Stalin's War revolutionizes our understanding of this global conflict by moving its epicenter to the east. Hitler's genocidal ambition may have helped unleash Armageddon, but as McMeekin shows, the war which emerged in Europe in September 1939 was the one Stalin wanted, not Hitler. So, too, did the Pacific war of 1941-1945 fulfill Stalin's goal of unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the "Anglo-Saxon" capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary.

The Last Tsar

By Edvard Radzinsky,

Book cover of The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II

Radvinsky is a celebrated Russian playwright and historian. Raised in the Soviet Union, when information about the last Romanovs was repressed, his unique take on the tsar’s life makes this both a fascinating history and thoughtful meditation on what Nicholas II represents to Russians.

The Last Tsar

By Edvard Radzinsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Edvard Radzinki, the leading Russian playwright, offers a portrait of Nicholas and Alexandra's marriage and an account of the final days of the Russian royal family's arrest, imprisonment and regicide. The opening of long-closed archives has allowed the author to make discoveries and reach new and revealing conclusions. His hitherto uptapped sources include three participants in the shooting, Radzinki reveals Lenin's role in the execution and has seen the actual telegram in which the order for the murder was given and there is the outstanding question: were the Tsarina and the daughters allowed to escape?


Who am I?

Jennifer Laam has been long fascinated with the mysteries surrounding the last Romanovs. Book Bub named her debut novel The Secret Daughter of the Tsar one of  "12 Books to Read if You Love Anastasia." She has three books published with St. Martin's Griffin, all focusing on an aspect of Russian history.


I wrote...

The Secret Daughter of the Tsar: A Novel of the Romanovs

By Jennifer Laam,

Book cover of The Secret Daughter of the Tsar: A Novel of the Romanovs

What is my book about?

A compelling alternate history of the Romanov family in which a secret fifth daughter--smuggled out of Russia before the revolution--continues the royal lineage to dramatic consequences

In her riveting debut novel, The Secret Daughter of the Tsar, Jennifer Laam seamlessly braids together the stories of three women: Veronica, Lena, and Charlotte. Veronica is an aspiring historian living in present-day Los Angeles when she meets a mysterious man who may be heir to the Russian throne. As she sets about investigating the legitimacy of his claim through a winding path of romance and deception, the ghosts of her own past begin to haunt her.

A Mountain of Crumbs

By Elena Gorokhova,

Book cover of A Mountain of Crumbs

A Mountain of Crumbs is a memoir by Elena Gorokhovoa, a Russian girl, who grew up under the Soviet Union. Even though a religious ideology imposed more restrictions on women in Iran, I found Gorokhova’s vivid descriptions of her life and struggles similar to mine. It reminded me that authoritarian regimes are all similar in nature: controlling and overbearing. They nurture a controlling culture too. People, unknowingly, become a mirror image of the regime, just like Gorokhova’s mother. 

A Mountain of Crumbs

By Elena Gorokhova,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by.

Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she…


Who am I?

I fell in love with historical novels as a kid after I began reading books by French authors Alexandre Dumas, the father and the son. I was the kind of kid who read for days and even nights to finish a story. Books moved me, inspired me, and gave me the strength and wisdom that I have today. I cannot imagine a world without them. 


I wrote...

The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran

By Nazila Fathi,

Book cover of The Lonely War: One Woman's Account of the Struggle for Modern Iran

What is my book about?

In The Lonely War, Fathi interweaves her story with that of the country she left behind, showing how Iran is locked in a battle between hardliners and reformers that dates back to the country's 1979 revolution. Fathi was nine years old when that uprising replaced the Iranian shah with a radical Islamic regime. Her father, an official at a government ministry, was fired for wearing a necktie and knowing English; to support his family he was forced to labor in an orchard hundreds of miles from Tehran. At the same time, the family's destitute, uneducated housekeeper was able to retire and purchase a modern apartment—all because her family supported the new regime.

Bookshelves related to the tsar of Russia