NICHOLAS II: THE LAST OF THE TSARS is the timely biography of the last emperor of Imperial Russia. Marc Ferro, author of works about the Russian Revolution and World War I, is well-equipped to tell the story of the ruler whose tragic career wa intimately involved in those two earthshaking events. Nicholas governed the world’s largest country from 1894 until his abdication in 1917. He was executed the following year. In 1989, at the end of the Cold War, headlines such as “Moscow prays for the innocent Tsar” appeared in Russian newspapers, an impossibility before the era of glasnost. The last of the Romanovs had been reborn.
Nicholas II inherited the reactionary attitudes of his father, Alexander III, but none of his firmness. Russia was changing, but Nicholas, stubbornly loyal to his heritage, denied the growing demands for representative government and other western freedoms. Supported by his wive Alexandra, and concerned about their son and heir, who suffered from hemophilia, Nicholas was unable to dominate and unwilling to adapt. The proponents of change were formidable. Industrialists and workers, students and intellectuals, the growing middle classes, liberals and radicals, and even some conservatives were convinced that Russia could no longer continue to be ruled by an autocrat claiming his authority from God. The winds of war and the passions of revolution swept him away.
Ferro’s analysis of Nicholas’ death in July, 1918 is of particular interest. The execution caused barely a ripple as World War I approached its climax and Russia was convulsed in civil war. Was the decision made by a local Bolshevik faction, or was it ordered by Lenin? Were all the members of the royal family murdered, or did one or more of the tsar’s daughters escape? Ferro’s discussion proves the difficulty of establishing absolute certainty in history. Finally, the current interest in Nicholas in today’s Russia might give the last tsar a greater significance now than at the time of his death.