Massie counterbalances the drama of Russian imperial society with the tragedy of the royal family of Nicholas, Alexandra, their four daughters (Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia), and the sickly Alexis. Thus, Massie encourages readers to examine Russia’s crisis as a human and personal drama.
Readers are reminded of the close ties of Nicholas and Alexandra to their blood relatives among the royalty of Germany and England. Indeed, the photograph of Nicholas with the future George V of England shows a remarkable resemblance. Nicholas is depicted as a ruler whose natural inclination to ignore hard realities can be traced to a difficult childhood under his father, Alexander III. An illustration of this trait and an ominous harbinger of later troubles is the description of what took place on the czar’s official coronation day in 1896. Crowds of people gathering for the celebration in the old capital of Moscow were caught in a riot that resulted in many deaths. Instead of acknowledging the tragedy, Nicholas proceeded with his evening banquet and ball as if nothing unusual had occurred. The empress, too, is described as insecure, attributable in part to her need to demonstrate attachment for her adopted culture. Nevertheless, the czar was not only a devoted father and loyal son of the Russian Orthodox church but also a loving husband. Massie quotes from the poignant “Nicky-Sunny” letters of the royal couple when Nicholas was at the front lines during World War I.
Yet little did Nicholas understand his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm, and his letters to the German ruler surely seem naïve. Once the die was cast in the summer of 1914, however, Nicholas displayed uncharacteristic firmness and courage, but these were not enough to overcome mistakes in judgment and failing supply lines. As patriotism turned to cynicism and despair, malcontents surprised even the radicals by toppling the old regime in February, 1917. A temporary government placed the members of...
(The entire section is 806 words.)