What Books to buy: The Romanov Collection

The Romanovs - the second and final dynasty to rule Russia - have captured the imagination of the world like no other royal family. The mysterious execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his immediate family in 1918 further fuels this fascination. When it come to reading about their tragic downfall, there is so much material to choose from, especially amongst the numerous pieces of recent scholarship on the subject, so it can be difficult to know where to start and what exactly it is that the wide variety of work has to offer.
This is why I have compiled a series of comprehensive reviews of what I have found to be the best and most recent work on the Romanov dynasty and the tragic story of their downfall, although the appearance and titles of these works may make it appear as if they all pretty much offer the same thing - they are all markedly different in style, approach and content,  this will hopefully be helpful to anyone seeking to get into this amazing history depending on what you want to get out of it.

Books that offer a broad dynastic overview of the 300 years of Romanov family rule.

The Romanovs: Autocrats of All the Russians
By W. Bruce Lincoln

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Price: £16.99
Publication Date: 1983
ISBN: 978-0385279086

The Romanovs Autocrats of All the Russia's is a broad sweeping history of the course of the Romanov Dynasty through the glory years of the Russian nation from the reign of Tsar Michael, (1613-1645), his son, Alexis, (1645-1676) and grandson Peter the Great (1682- 1725) and on to the reigns of Peter's Tsarina Catherine I, (1725-1727), Peter and Catherine's daughter-in-law, Anne (1730-1740) and daughter Elizabeth (1741-1762). On to the reigns of Catherine the Great, (1762-1796), her grandsons, Alexander I, (1801-1825) and Nicholas I, (1825-1855). With Nicholas I, Imperial Russia appears to reached its zenith. The Decembrist Movement of 1825, the Crimean War (1853-1856) and the assassination of Nicholas I's son, Alexander II in 1881, all signal  the sudden decline of the Tsarist Russian Empire  culminating in 1917. The sweep of this book is that of a grand overview, yet Bruce Lincoln's style of writing holds the reader interest as if it were a novel punctuated with analysis. This makes it an ideal history for the general reader or a useful introduction to anyone planning to read in further detail on any aspect of the Romanov dynasty.

The Romanovs 1818-1959
By John Van Der Kiste

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Price: £14.00
Publication Date: 2004
ISBN: 978-0750934596

This book examines the life and reign of Alexander II, the Tsar who emancipated the Serfs, and the lives of his children, including his successor Tsar Alexander III, whose determination to purge the empire of all terrorism and protect the autocracy brought more violence in its wake; and his grandson, Tsar Nicholas II, whose vacillation between autocracy and liberalism and disastrous foreign ventures led to the violent dissolution of the monarchy. What is perhaps most unique and worthwhile about this book is that it recounts the lives of Alexander II's children from his controversial second marriage - to his mistress, Catherine Dolgorouky - of whom the youngest, Catherine, lived in England for several years and died in 1959. The collapse of the dynasty, the Russian revolution and execution of several members of the family are touchingly explored through the eyes of the surviving sons and daughters of the 'Tsar Liberator'.
This account brings to life the character of Tsars Alexander II and III, and the contrast between Alexander III and his reticent son Nicholas II is drawn well. Above all, it is fascinating to read what became of Alexander II's family by his mistress, the daughter living until 1959, seem to have received little attention until now.

The Romanovs: Ruling Russia 1613-1917
By Lindsey Hughes

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Price: £15.99
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0826430816

Despite being a recent publication this book contains nothing new on the Romanovs, except for the fact that in 2006, the remains of Nicholas II's mother were brought from Denmark to Russia. Then again nowhere does the author state that she is trying to say anything new or radical, or that she is presenting information that has been overlooked by previous authors. The Romanovs is aimed at the general reader but is not a pleasurable book to read, repeatedly I started a new paragraph hoping the writing would suddenly liven up and engage my attention, and again and again I found myself reading blunt prose that straightforwardly presented information.
The author, Lindsey Hughes, a world-renowned expert on Russian history of the 17th and 18th centuries, was terminally ill when she wrote this book and sadly died shortly after publication. A great tribute to her tenacity and skill in writing under such circumstances, but I seriously believe that had had she lived the book we see today would have been far from her final draft.

Books which concentrate on the life of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family.

Nicholas & Alexandra
By Robert K. Massie

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Price: £10.99
Publication Date: 1996 (new edition)
ISBN: 978-0575400061

This book, first published over forty years ago, is an internationally famous biography from Pulitzer prize-winner Robert Massie and has become something of a classic in the literature on the Romanovs. I have known many people start out their interest in Russian History through the unmatched passion and skill of the author and his engaging emotive narrative that makes this book, an  account of the lives of the last Romanovs a guaranteed pleasure to read for all audiences.
Massie writes clearly and eloquently and succeeds in bringing his characters to life and developing a genuine empathy with them, as an account of the last Tsar and Tsarina's private life it will probably never be matched, however, that is all it is an account of their private lives, as a political account it is lacklustre and readers hoping for the best of both worlds should probably look elsewhere.

The Fall of the Romanovs: Political Dreams and Personal Struggles in a Time of Revolution
By Mark Steinberg

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Price: £18.99
Publication Date: 1997
ISBN: 978-0300070675

This book draws together well all the advances made in the 1990s with more and more archives in Russia becoming accessible, it attempts to reconstruct the story from the perspective of almost everyone involved in the story of the downfall of the last Tsar and his family through their own personal testimonies and achieves this well. The documents, which appear for the first time in English (the language in which some of them were originally written), include correspondence between Nicholas and Alexandra during the 1917 February revolution; portions of their diaries; minutes of government meetings, telegrams, and other official papers concerning the arrest, confinement, and execution of the Romanovs; letters written by the captive Tsar and his family to friends and relatives; appeals from Russian citizens concerning the fate of the Romanovs; and testimonies by the revolutionaries who guarded and executed them

The Fate of the Romanovs
By Greg King and Penny Wilson

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Price: £19.99
Publication Date: 2003
ISBN: 978-0471207689
King (The Man Who Killed Rasputin) and Wilson have written here a graphic reconstruction of the fate of the last Tsar and his family and a detailed account of the case's developments in 1989–2001. Rather than blame the murders directly on the central government in Moscow , King and Wilson devote half of their account to arguing that the Ural Regional Soviet too the decision itself to shoot the family, informing Lenin and the Presidium days later. The book's second half examines the wildly contentious 'discovery' and identification of the royal bones in 1989, even though the Soviet government allegedly knew where the mass grave was all along. This account of the Romanovs' last days is far more graphic than Steinberg and Khrustalev's The Fall of the Romanovs, the seemingly exhaustive documentation and notes and readable style make this book just as accessible for the academic as it is for the general reader, and while the book may be somewhat longer than necessary, those fascinated with the development of the story as a murder case will find it worthwhile.

Books which concentrate on the murders of the Nicholas II and his family in 1918 and the aftermath.

Ekaterinburg: The Last Days of the Romanovs
by Helen Rappaport

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Price: £7.99
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978-0099520092

I have many contemporaries who own a large collection of books on the Romanovs and who were very pleased and pleasantly surprised by this book. The author uses unparalleled and exhaustive research of diaries, letters and eyewitness accounts to intricately draw together the strands of this story to write an genuinely compelling account of the very last days of the Imperial Family. This book completely leaves aside the politics of Nicholas II's reign and life before abdication but constantly puts the personal story against the backdrop of the Civil War, revolution, and factional fighting amongst the Bolsheviks which helps explain the curse of the Imperial family's crucial last days alive. This is one of the most recent work to focus on the final days of the Imperial family and could well be the last word and most intimate account available of their final experiences.  If you want to re-live their final days this is the book for you.

The Murder of the Romanovs
By Andrew Cook

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Price: £9.99
Publication Date: 2011
ISBN: 978-1445600703

Being such a cause celebre of twentieth-century history, every new book published on the overthrow and execution of Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian Imperial family claims to be based on exclusive access to newly discovered Russian documents, and be the last word on the fate of the Romanov family. This is the most recent of such books, Andrew Cook's re-investigation of the story draws upon the new forensic evidence and newly discovered British and Russian Secret Service records and attempts to reveal the final truth about the family's murder, the proposed British rescue of the Imperial family led by Major Stephen Alley, and the Secret Service mission inside Russia after the family's reported deaths to discover the truth about their fate.  This is a very well written book, it is detailed and precise and while I have no doubt that in spite of the fact that in four years time another well written book will be published claiming to be the last word on the last Tsar, this is one I will continue to refer to.