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Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia

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"Michael Farquhar doesn't write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin's smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the "Michael Farquhar doesn't write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin's smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the world's most fascinating imperial dynasty: the Romanovs, whose three-hundred-year reign was remarkable for its shocking violence, spectacular excess, and unimaginable venality. In this incredibly entertaining history, Michael Farquhar collects the best, most captivating true tales of Romanov iniquity. We meet Catherine the Great, with her endless parade of virile young lovers (none of them of the equine variety); her unhinged son, Paul I, who ordered the bones of one of his mother's paramours dug out of its grave and tossed into a gorge; and Grigori Rasputin, the "Mad Monk," whose mesmeric domination of the last of the Romanov tsars helped lead to the monarchy's undoing. From Peter the Great's penchant for personally beheading his recalcitrant subjects (he kept the severed head of one of his mistresses pickled in alcohol) to Nicholas and Alexandra's brutal demise at the hands of the Bolsheviks, Secret Lives of the Tsars captures all the splendor and infamy that was Imperial Russia. Praise for Secret Lives of the Tsars "An accessible, exciting narrative . . . Highly recommended for generalists interested in Russian history and those who enjoy the seamier side of past lives."--Library Journal (starred review) "An excellent condensed version of Russian history . . . a fine tale of history and scandal . . . sure to please general readers and monarchy buffs alike."--Publishers Weekly "Tales from the nasty lives of global royalty . . . an easy-reading, lightweight history lesson."--Kirkus Reviews "Readers of this book may get a sense of why Russians are so tolerant of tyrants like Stalin and Putin. Given their history, it probably seems normal."--The Washington Post


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"Michael Farquhar doesn't write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin's smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the "Michael Farquhar doesn't write about history the way, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin does. He writes about history the way Doris Kearns Goodwin's smart-ass, reprobate kid brother might. I, for one, prefer it."--Gene Weingarten, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and Washington Post columnist Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the world's most fascinating imperial dynasty: the Romanovs, whose three-hundred-year reign was remarkable for its shocking violence, spectacular excess, and unimaginable venality. In this incredibly entertaining history, Michael Farquhar collects the best, most captivating true tales of Romanov iniquity. We meet Catherine the Great, with her endless parade of virile young lovers (none of them of the equine variety); her unhinged son, Paul I, who ordered the bones of one of his mother's paramours dug out of its grave and tossed into a gorge; and Grigori Rasputin, the "Mad Monk," whose mesmeric domination of the last of the Romanov tsars helped lead to the monarchy's undoing. From Peter the Great's penchant for personally beheading his recalcitrant subjects (he kept the severed head of one of his mistresses pickled in alcohol) to Nicholas and Alexandra's brutal demise at the hands of the Bolsheviks, Secret Lives of the Tsars captures all the splendor and infamy that was Imperial Russia. Praise for Secret Lives of the Tsars "An accessible, exciting narrative . . . Highly recommended for generalists interested in Russian history and those who enjoy the seamier side of past lives."--Library Journal (starred review) "An excellent condensed version of Russian history . . . a fine tale of history and scandal . . . sure to please general readers and monarchy buffs alike."--Publishers Weekly "Tales from the nasty lives of global royalty . . . an easy-reading, lightweight history lesson."--Kirkus Reviews "Readers of this book may get a sense of why Russians are so tolerant of tyrants like Stalin and Putin. Given their history, it probably seems normal."--The Washington Post

30 review for Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia

  1. 5 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ~ The Serendipity Aegis ~ ⚡ϟ⚡ϟ⚡⛈ ✺❂❤❣

    What the hell is this? Is this what's called 'history' these days? Is this what passes for a book?? An exercise in misplaced bigotry is what it is! I firmly believe that any of our private lives could be made into debauchery, murder, madness and so on... Like this: Suffering from clinical depression? => MADNESS identified! Having more than 1, 2, 10 sex partners? => Debauchery identified! Slut-shaming mode enabled! A king? => O horror, it's autocracy! Being introverted? => Unsuited to ruling. What the hell is this? Is this what's called 'history' these days? Is this what passes for a book?? An exercise in misplaced bigotry is what it is! I firmly believe that any of our private lives could be made into debauchery, murder, madness and so on... Like this: Suffering from clinical depression? => MADNESS identified! Having more than 1, 2, 10 sex partners? => Debauchery identified! Slut-shaming mode enabled! A king? => O horror, it's autocracy! Being introverted? => Unsuited to ruling. There must be something wrong with his DNA! Loving foreign cultures? => Hater of one's nation! Loving your own culture? => Nationalist! Reading a lot? => Removed from reality! Preferring active pastimes to intellectual stuff? => Eccentric! I do believe that none of us are perfect robots. We are humans, for Christ's sake! And the Romanovs were humans and therefore had their strengths and weaknesses, successes and failings. And the author has failed recognizing this, which is damn surprising for a historian! What the reader gets, is a bash-fest of every petty thing the author decided to include, while excluding the things that actually drove history. Female-bashing was extra pathetic in here! Catherine the Great? She had many sexual partners? How the hell is it different from feminism and sexual liberation and everything modern? BTW, she was known to have asked her doctors to do something so that she wouldn't need men so much. She might have had a condition of sorts or she just could have been in possession of strong libido (which is normal but could have surprised her contemporaries who believed in female hysteria and other BS). She also was a humanist, knew a bunch of languages, loved philosophy and humanism, lettered with the most forward thinkers of her time (think Voltaire!). She worked on developing laws and ran a number of innovative reforms that were drastically needed at the time! So, forgive me but I don't think that her sexual appetite was the most important thing about her by which she should become known to posterity! Yes it's a fun thing to know but NOT the most important feature of her rule or one to bash her about hundreds of years after she ruled. Mindbogglingly ludicrous. I've no idea how someone would write a book about history missing all important things and dragging about the equivalent of yellow press tidbits... My patience is very thin with reading cherry-picked, heavily edited versions of anecdotal history. This one getting 1 star is me being extremely generous, since it should get full negative marks. Even the Chapters are named distastefully as hell: Q: CHAPTER 1 Ivan V and Peter I (1682–1696): One Autocrat Too Many CHAPTER 2 Peter I (1696–1725): The Eccentricities of an Emperor CHAPTER 3 Catherine I (1725–1727): The Peasant Empress CHAPTER 4 Anna (1730–1740): “A Bored Estate Mistress” CHAPTER 5 Elizabeth (1741–1762): The Empress of Pretense CHAPTER 6 Peter III (1762): “Nature Made Him a Mere Poltroon” CHAPTER 7 Catherine II (1762–1796): “Prey to This Mad Passion!” CHAPTER 8 Paul (1796–1801): “He Detests His Nation” CHAPTER 9 Alexander I (1801–1825): Napoleon’s Conqueror CHAPTER 10 Nicholas I (1825–1855): “A Condescending Jupiter” CHAPTER 11 Alexander II (1855–1881): “A Crowned Semi-Ruin” CHAPTER 12 Alexander III (1881–1894): “A Colossus of Unwavering Autocracy” CHAPTER 13 Nicholas II (1894–1917): “An Absolute Child” (c) IS THIS WHAT PASSES FOR HISTORY THESE DAYS????? Cringe-worthy! It just makes an informed reader feeling that the author had some bone to pick with all those dead rulers. So, they weren't democratic, so what? There was the serfdom afoot? Well, from what I hear, Afroamerican slaves weren't feeling as peachy as well on another continent. And serfdom was abolished in 1861 without any segregation to be pursued. For comparison, on another continent the Civil War was over in 1965 with decades of segregation to follow. So, it would seem that all the monarchs that were so mistreated in this book managed to do things right, after all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    GoldGato

    Wikipedia must be sick of my constant searches on the Russian Tsars. Then I end up looking up the various side relations (cousins, brothers, sisters, Grand Dukes) and, hours later, can't remember which Tsar I had started with, so I start the process all over again. This book is very handy and provides the Wiki team with some relief from my "so which Tsar was the one who was killed" (quite a few). The book focuses on the Romanov family, first beginning with the explanation for the end of the previ Wikipedia must be sick of my constant searches on the Russian Tsars. Then I end up looking up the various side relations (cousins, brothers, sisters, Grand Dukes) and, hours later, can't remember which Tsar I had started with, so I start the process all over again. This book is very handy and provides the Wiki team with some relief from my "so which Tsar was the one who was killed" (quite a few). The book focuses on the Romanov family, first beginning with the explanation for the end of the previous Rurik dynasty (which deserves its own book). Combining the intrigue of the Byzantine residue and the Slavic/Viking heritage, these are some real whoppers. Yes, there's Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and Alexander I and Alexander III. But really, the rest were just whacked out of their heads. I mean, really. Each leader gets a chapter and one wonders just how "royal" some were, given the extra-marital births that took place. Still, the sad end result of them all was Nicholas II. His ending was horrible and I had to hurry through to the finish so I wouldn't think too much about it. Learned quite a bit. I always got confused with the 19th Century group, so this was very helpful. Interesting to learn just how German they were (which might explain a few traits). This is not a long in-depth tome about Russian leaders, but it certainly hit the spot and kept me away from the world of Wiki for a bit, so bravo. Book Season - Summer (no tears, no questions)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Caidyn (NO LONGER ACTIVE; he/him/his)

    3.5 Surprisingly enjoyable. I went in here for trash on the tsars, and it wasn't as trashy as I expected. Actually, it was highly interesting because I know next to nothing about the Romanov dynasty. I thought it was sort of like Japan's, where there literally had been only one line of people from start to finish. However, apparently that's not right and so right from the first chapter I learned something I didn't know. The things before Catherine the Great (and Empress Elisabeth's family in gener 3.5 Surprisingly enjoyable. I went in here for trash on the tsars, and it wasn't as trashy as I expected. Actually, it was highly interesting because I know next to nothing about the Romanov dynasty. I thought it was sort of like Japan's, where there literally had been only one line of people from start to finish. However, apparently that's not right and so right from the first chapter I learned something I didn't know. The things before Catherine the Great (and Empress Elisabeth's family in general) and after her were the most interesting for me. Since I just finished listening to a 600+ page book about her, sort of know about the people slightly before her -- Elisabeth's father and him marrying a commoner; the struggle for Elisabeth to get the throne -- and then, most specifically, Catherine's son. Of course, I know so much about the Romanovs, but their story doesn't bore me like some of the other rulers. I suspect that's because of what happened to them, but oh well. Rasputin is so interesting. Nicholas and how he never wanted to be tsar. His relationship with his wife. His wife in general. The children. Seriously, they're so interesting, and I really learned a lot more about Nicholas and Alexandra the most from this book. Most of what I've read on the last Romanovs is focused on their children, so seeing about the same information presented at a new angle was very refreshing. All in all, if you're a newbie to Russian history like I am, this is a good book to go for it. The title is a bit misleading. It touches on the different things that happened, but nothing too much.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley in exchange for a fair review. Perhaps it is unfair to read this book after reading Elephant Company, which was the type of book that made me want to go find everything else by the author. This isn’t the first Farquhar book I’ve read, and last year I read Hughes book about the Romanovs. But it’s Farquhar. Even when he writes about things you know like the back of your hand, he is hilarious. It’s a joy to spend a few hours reading one of his books. He’s like th Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley in exchange for a fair review. Perhaps it is unfair to read this book after reading Elephant Company, which was the type of book that made me want to go find everything else by the author. This isn’t the first Farquhar book I’ve read, and last year I read Hughes book about the Romanovs. But it’s Farquhar. Even when he writes about things you know like the back of your hand, he is hilarious. It’s a joy to spend a few hours reading one of his books. He’s like the professor whose classes are always filled from day one. In this slim volume about the Russian Romanov Tsar, Farquhar shows that the same wit and vibe he brought to American history, and scandals in royal houses, is aptly suited for vodka drinking Tsars. Even if you have read Hughes’ excellent work that covers the same material, Farquhar’s book will include little tidbits that are just completely strange and historically unimportant, but great to know. Like in the footnotes of Terry Pratchett, the footnotes of Farquhar are ones that no reader should miss. Some of his best bits are there – like the bit about cross dressing success (this was not in Hughes, though she is a source). Perhaps the weakest part of the book, and weakest isn’t quite the world, are the three chapters that focus on the most famous Romanovs of all – Nicholas, Alexandra and their children. While it is understandable to include a more detailed look at the end of the rulers, it does feel a little bit dragged out – except for the part detailing Alexandra’s character. The in depth look at Alexandra’s actions and behavior, outside of her understandable desire to save her son, were particularly well done and strengthen what would have been a too drawn out look. Furthermore, considering recent events concerning Russia and the Ukraine, there are few choice bits in this book that will shed more light or understanding on the Crimea events. Good timing on Farquhar’s part and it makes it a worthwhile read. As always, there is a nice list of further reading and source works. If you haven’t read anything about the Romanovs before, this book is an excellent introduction. Crossposted at Booklikes

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jolene

    3.5 Stars **Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review** This was a great introduction to the Romanov dynasty. I'm a little embarrassed to admit the only people I already really knew anything about was Catherine the Great and Anastasia. This was a great book to pick up and put down when you had a few spare minutes. Each chapter is sprinkled with really great footnotes. These weren't really needed, but they were great additions. I liked that the auth 3.5 Stars **Thank you to Random House and Netgalley for providing this in exchange for an honest review** This was a great introduction to the Romanov dynasty. I'm a little embarrassed to admit the only people I already really knew anything about was Catherine the Great and Anastasia. This was a great book to pick up and put down when you had a few spare minutes. Each chapter is sprinkled with really great footnotes. These weren't really needed, but they were great additions. I liked that the author went out of his way to include little bits of information about the people surrounding the Tsars and their families. This book was a little odd in that the writing changed drastically half way through. I loved the first half of the book. It was exactly what the title promised. These chapters flew by for me. They were filled with humorous (and morbid) tidbits about the early Romanov line. If the whole book had been written this way, it would have been a solid 5 stars. The second half of the book read more like a text book. I still enjoyed most of it, but it took me a lot longer to get through. They were a lot more detailed then the chapters in the first half. While the still focused on the Tsars, the branched out more to include detailed events that happened during the Tsars ruling. I have only one real complaint about this title. Two sections were too drawn out. First was Catherine the Great. She dominated not only her chapter, but also the chapters belonging to her husband and son. Honestly, I grew bored of her. I really wish the author had left her the main focus of her chapter only. Second was the last few chapters dealing with Nicholas and Alexandra. These last chapters were way too dry and drawn out for my taste. They also left me feeling no sympathy whatsoever for Nicholas and Alexandra. I don't condone what happened to them, but I can understand the peoples reaction. Their children are another story. The children never should have suffered that fate they did.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christoph Fischer

    "Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia" by Michael Farquhar is a well written and easy to read account of the private and public lives of three hundred years worth of Russian Emperors and Empresses. Focusing on the violence, the back stabbing and adultery, this reads like a historical soap opera, thanks to the lives of the tsars. Although a lot will never be known for sure, the author seems to have done enough resear "Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia" by Michael Farquhar is a well written and easy to read account of the private and public lives of three hundred years worth of Russian Emperors and Empresses. Focusing on the violence, the back stabbing and adultery, this reads like a historical soap opera, thanks to the lives of the tsars. Although a lot will never be known for sure, the author seems to have done enough research to make educated guesses. It made me very happy not to have lived in those times. The writing style compresses the history parts and other backgrounds into sizeable chunks, giving a good overview over the European politics and other developments without losing focus on the dynasties and the bloody line to the thrown. Other historians can get lost in the detail, which Farquhar so excellently avoided. However, there is still enough history in it for me to feel that I was reminded of the important basics and leared new facts. A very rich and enjoyable read. I reviewed this book for netgalley.com

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    This was an audio book that I started because I had mind-numbing task for work to do--and I needed something to occupy the 99.5% of my brain the task wasn't going to occupy. I wanted something fun, light-hearted, and nothing that would make me cry (this is a vital consideration as I was at work). Russian history, especially of the Romanovs, is just fascinating. You almost have to forcibly put the early rulers with their Western Europe contemporaries to understand the dramatic contrast in culture This was an audio book that I started because I had mind-numbing task for work to do--and I needed something to occupy the 99.5% of my brain the task wasn't going to occupy. I wanted something fun, light-hearted, and nothing that would make me cry (this is a vital consideration as I was at work). Russian history, especially of the Romanovs, is just fascinating. You almost have to forcibly put the early rulers with their Western Europe contemporaries to understand the dramatic contrast in culture and expectations. Ivan the Terrible asked Elizabeth I to marry him, which just boggles the head. This book goes through the entire Romanov family and the rulers. If you ever wanted to feel really good about your own family dynamics--read this book! (Assuming you haven't a) killed your son after telling his wife to put on more clothes; b) beheaded your mistress and then used her decapitated head to give an impromptu anatomy lesson; or c) had your ex lover choose your next lover that would be 1/3 your age. If any of these are true, you should still read this book as it may give you some tips.) Now, no family is perfect. And power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. And wow, were the Romanovs corrupt at times. Even the best of them were kinda squirrelly. Then when you get to Nick II and Alexandra, you know it's going to end poorly. No one could make up a character like Rasputin--because he's unbelievable. The idea of being given a country to rule by the hand of God is so foreign to our modern sensibilities that it's almost impossible to feel empathy for the cast of characters thrown at us. But you sort of have to. The violence of their lives bred violence and eventually it exploded and destroyed the family. The absolute decadence of their lives is surreal. Is this the best book you can read on the Romanovs--no. They are a complicated family in which each character demands a full volume. Can you be entertained by the book equivalent of Daily Mail (I Know) approach to their foibles. Yes, you can. And you can get a lot of mindless work done while you listen.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Just as well written as the other books by this author I have read but this one is so depressing. It is disheartening to believe that so many generations of the same family could be so cruel and heartless. Mr. Farquhar's other books are generally about the nastier side of history but the others I have read are also entertaining. This one lingers in my mind as hurtful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter Wolfley

    Russia. I don’t even know where to begin. Their history is so strange and bloody it makes U.S. history look like Seasame Street. The stories in this book are so bizarre and shocking you will find yourself doubting your very sanity. I can’t decide if I should dig deeper into Russian history or just give up now.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Mansfield

    *An e-ARC was received through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review* wp.me/p32oat-R2 Normally I try and review books much closer to publication time, but given today’s political environment, a review of how Russia came to be Russia seemed rather fitting. For although the Romanovs have been off the through just shy of a century now (97 years to be exact) if you look at the leadership of the Soviet Union and now Putin, there is a sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I wa *An e-ARC was received through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review* wp.me/p32oat-R2 Normally I try and review books much closer to publication time, but given today’s political environment, a review of how Russia came to be Russia seemed rather fitting. For although the Romanovs have been off the through just shy of a century now (97 years to be exact) if you look at the leadership of the Soviet Union and now Putin, there is a sense that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I want to give a tip of my ushanka to Mr. Farquhar, because he has managed an impressive feat: simplifying three hundred years in a way that, while still very much an overview gives you enough context and insight that it doesn’t necessarily feel shallow. Furthermore, an extra appreciated touch is that book doesn’t focus on the lurid. While he does, of course, mention the rumors of Catherine’s equine lovers, it’s dismissed as quickly as it is brought up. This is a true history book and gives the subjects of the book the respect that they deserve. The only thing I have a quibble with is that the art, and to a more limited extent, the summary almost imply that this might have a humorous element to it and I can’t say that it does. The author keeps what can be some dark history fairly light, but I wouldn’t call this a funny book, outside of a few descriptions in the introduction. It’s not a knock against the book, but it may not be what you’re expecting. When available, you might want to download a sample and see if it’s right for you. As for me, I was pleased with it. I thought the book was well-weighted in terms of time spent on the various Tsars and there is a sufficiently detailed selected bibliography that it should give someone who wants to dig deeper plenty of places to start looking. It’s a good introduction to the Romanov dynasty and not a bad way to dip your toes in the very deep pool of Imperial Russian history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Z

    Concise yet vivid accounts of tsarist regimes, unsparingly honest about cruelty, brutality and indifference to the lives of others. The complex political and familial connections within each regime are presented in a way that will jar the memories of readers already familiar with Russian history and pique the curiosity of readers with less familiarity. Good notes at the end of each chapter, and frequent references to other historians and biographers within the text that may inspire readers to se Concise yet vivid accounts of tsarist regimes, unsparingly honest about cruelty, brutality and indifference to the lives of others. The complex political and familial connections within each regime are presented in a way that will jar the memories of readers already familiar with Russian history and pique the curiosity of readers with less familiarity. Good notes at the end of each chapter, and frequent references to other historians and biographers within the text that may inspire readers to seek out other works. The author’s tight storytelling, combined with foreshadowing, give each chapter a sense of increasing foreboding as the inevitable murder of the Romanovs draws near. As a librarian, I’d consider recommending this to students with the advice that they should go on to read some of the source material listed in the bibliography.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    Secret Lives of the Tsars is amazingly a well researched and documented lives of the rulers of Russia. I really enjoyed reading about the Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Tsarina Alexandra and their five children Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei. Even reading about Rasputin. This period of Russian history always fascinated. I liked learning about them and their life. As well as, the other rulers in history. I believe this was an interesting read. 4 stars.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    3.5 stars. Non-fiction read about 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. Not overwhelming..just enough information so that you can learn something about each Russian ruler from 1682 until 1917. Of course the one most are familiar with is Nicholas II who is related to Queen Elizabeth II's husband-Prince Philip and it was his DNA they used when they unearthed (1991) Nicholas II and his families' grave pit to determine it was really them. I've read quite a lot about Nicholas II and his families' demise 3.5 stars. Non-fiction read about 300 years of the Romanov dynasty. Not overwhelming..just enough information so that you can learn something about each Russian ruler from 1682 until 1917. Of course the one most are familiar with is Nicholas II who is related to Queen Elizabeth II's husband-Prince Philip and it was his DNA they used when they unearthed (1991) Nicholas II and his families' grave pit to determine it was really them. I've read quite a lot about Nicholas II and his families' demise at the hands of the Bolshevik's but this reading was the most detailed. A gruesome and tragic end that could have been avoided had King George V of England (Nicholas' first cousin and friend and Queen Elizabeth II Grandfather) not refused him sanctuary in Britain.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Richard Thomas

    Fairly banal and unchallenging survey of the Romanovs. If you know Russian history, you won't get much new from this but as a holiday read it's fine.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    Easy reading; totally transported.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    interesting

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bridget

    This gives you a good overview of the history of the Romanovs and a real look into the personalities of each Tsar, which is what made it for me. Russian history is complicated, but this book makes it easy to digest and makes you want to learn more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Today's post is on Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, And Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar. It is 349 pages long and is published by Random House. The cover is illustrated pictures of the various Romanov Tsars. The intended reader is someone who likes history, and Russian history. There is some language, sex, and violence in this book. The story is told from third person perspective with letters, dairies, and other first hand res Today's post is on Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, And Madness from Romanov Russia by Michael Farquhar. It is 349 pages long and is published by Random House. The cover is illustrated pictures of the various Romanov Tsars. The intended reader is someone who likes history, and Russian history. There is some language, sex, and violence in this book. The story is told from third person perspective with letters, dairies, and other first hand resources for added depth. There Be Spoilers Ahead. From the back of the book- Scandal! Intrigue! Cossacks! Here the world's most engaging royal historian chronicles the world's most fascinating imperial dynasty: the Romanovs, whose three-hundred-year reign was remarkable for its shocking violence, spectacular excess, and unimaginable venality. In this incredibly entertaining history, Michael Farquhar collects the best, most captivating true tales of Romanov iniquity. We meet Catherine the Great, with her end-less parade of virile young lovers (none of them of the equine variety); her unhinged son, Paul I, who ordered the bones of one of his mother's paramours dug out of its grave and tossed into a gorge; and Grigori Rasputin, the “Mad Monk,” whose mesmeric domination of the last of the Romanov tsars helped lead to the monarchy's undoing. From Peter the Great's penchant for personally beheading his recalcitrant subjects (he kept the severed head of one of his mistresses pickled in alcohol) to Nicholas and Alexandra's brutal demise at the hands of the Bolsheviks, Secret Live of the Tsars captures all the splendor and infamy that was Imperial Russia. Review- These stories about the Romanovs are funny, heartbreaking, tragic, and blood-thirsty. I liked a lot about this book but the biggest thing that I liked was that Farquhar traced each ruler from birth to death. He does not overwhelm the reader with all the little details of their lives but in the end I have a good basic grounding about their lives and reign. This book is very well written and the research is excellent. Farquhar not only gives a good grounding in the Romanov family but in Russia as well. He talks about why Russia was and is the way that it is to this day. Farquhar clearly loves his job and it shows in his work. The passion to detail, the little footnotes for added favor, and the end notes for further reading everything is just wonderful. The footnotes do what I think that footnotes should do which is just add a little extra something to the narrative. I will be picking up another of his books to read. I give this book a Five out of Five stars. I get nothing for my review and I borrowed this book from my local library.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Cori Edgerton

    Just like with any royal family, the Romanovs were no strangers to sickly, misunderstood, downright mad, yet once in awhile great rulers. In his book, Farquhar tells the interesting, scandalous, and shocking tales of the Tsars that ruled the Russian Empire for 300 years from the dynasty's beginning with Michael to its bloody end with Nicholas II. I very much enjoy Russian history so I liked the book, but unfortunately I already knew most of the juicy secrets that were discussed by Farquhar since Just like with any royal family, the Romanovs were no strangers to sickly, misunderstood, downright mad, yet once in awhile great rulers. In his book, Farquhar tells the interesting, scandalous, and shocking tales of the Tsars that ruled the Russian Empire for 300 years from the dynasty's beginning with Michael to its bloody end with Nicholas II. I very much enjoy Russian history so I liked the book, but unfortunately I already knew most of the juicy secrets that were discussed by Farquhar since they were told during my history classes in college. (My classes were fantastically interesting that way!) Surprisingly, the family member that stood out most to me wasn't a Tsar at all but Empress Marie Feodorovna or Minnie. I wonder how she survived the Revolution while so many Romanovs did not, esecially under her Bolshevik captivity in the Crimea. My one problem with Farquhar's book is the lack of citation. He has a select bibliography and uses some in-text citation, but I prefer footnotes or endnotes to see directly were the info or quotations are coming from. Overall, great tidbits that make the study of history fun not boring.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Aishuu

    This is a very accessible orientation of the Romanov dynasty. It covers the tsars in a gossip-rag style, devoting about a chapter to each tsar (with the exception of Nicholas II, who gets three chapters to his downfall). The book was light and easy to read, and it helped me straighten out some of the tsars (I remember Ivan, Peter, Catherine, and then I get muddy until Alexander III). I would call this a very light history (no real original research - Farquhar cites most of the more serious biogra This is a very accessible orientation of the Romanov dynasty. It covers the tsars in a gossip-rag style, devoting about a chapter to each tsar (with the exception of Nicholas II, who gets three chapters to his downfall). The book was light and easy to read, and it helped me straighten out some of the tsars (I remember Ivan, Peter, Catherine, and then I get muddy until Alexander III). I would call this a very light history (no real original research - Farquhar cites most of the more serious biographers frequently). It's readable and titillating, but I found myself bored with the chapters about Catherine (I loved Robert Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman) and Nicholas II and Alexandra (too many more books to count). For people who really know the Romanovs, this isn't worth their time. In short, this is a good primer but it's like getting news from Entertainment Tonight instead of CNN. It's designed to entertain, but not educate.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Danielle Dandreaux

    This book is about all of the Romanov Tsar's, Emperors and Empresses. The first two thirds of the book focuses on the violence including punishments to citizens and deaths of the royal family and their sexual escapades. I was leaning towards two to two and a half stars til the last third of the book. It was like reading the Enquirer about historical figures. There was not a lot of details, especially related to the accomplishments of some of these figures. I was particularly disappointed with th This book is about all of the Romanov Tsar's, Emperors and Empresses. The first two thirds of the book focuses on the violence including punishments to citizens and deaths of the royal family and their sexual escapades. I was leaning towards two to two and a half stars til the last third of the book. It was like reading the Enquirer about historical figures. There was not a lot of details, especially related to the accomplishments of some of these figures. I was particularly disappointed with the lack of information about Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. The book goes into much greater detail about the last of the Romanov's Nicholas II and Alexandra (of course, Rasputin is featured heavily in these chapters. Every ruler has a short chapter dedicated to them with the exception of the last tsar. These chapters were interesting but I would have liked for the author to go into greater detail about some of the other Romanov's.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Josh Johnson

    I guess this book delivered on what it promised: An entertaining and brief overview of 300 years of Romanov rule in Russia. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that the portrayal of most of these rulers remained two-dimensional. Even in summary form, a more well-rounded portrait could have been presented. Instead, Farquhar writes like the sleepy student in the back row of a Russian history class whose ears perk up only at the mention of sex and violence. Perhaps now I’m the one being unfair, as I’m I guess this book delivered on what it promised: An entertaining and brief overview of 300 years of Romanov rule in Russia. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that the portrayal of most of these rulers remained two-dimensional. Even in summary form, a more well-rounded portrait could have been presented. Instead, Farquhar writes like the sleepy student in the back row of a Russian history class whose ears perk up only at the mention of sex and violence. Perhaps now I’m the one being unfair, as I’m currently wrapping up the hundreds of pages of Robert K. Massie’s excellent portrayal of Peter the Great. And it’s not like the title and subtitle of this book attempt to cover up its true contents. Still, like a Hollywood script, it focuses more on holding your attention than telling something that represents the texture and richness of a full story. And that makes it entirely unsuitable reading for, you know, something like an actual Russian history class.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    The Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for three hundred years, is examined sovereign by sovereign. Most of the books about royals focus on England, so it was nice having such a great overview of the Russian monarchs. There was a lot I didn't know, and the book is written in a style that's easy to read, and almost conspiratorial in its gossipy nuggets. There were only a few quibbles I had. First, a big deal was made of the fact that sisters of the Tsars couldn't marry early on, but later talk wa The Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia for three hundred years, is examined sovereign by sovereign. Most of the books about royals focus on England, so it was nice having such a great overview of the Russian monarchs. There was a lot I didn't know, and the book is written in a style that's easy to read, and almost conspiratorial in its gossipy nuggets. There were only a few quibbles I had. First, a big deal was made of the fact that sisters of the Tsars couldn't marry early on, but later talk was made of their children. There wasn't ever an explanation of how this changed. Second, almost 40% of the book focuses on Nicholas II (three long chapters), which is quite imbalanced. Granted, I learned a lot of how the royal couple sealed their own doom, which I hadn't realized, but it did seem like earlier sovereigns missed out.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Lefevre

    This was my 4th Russia book in as many months and will probably end my binge. That is not a criticism of the book. If you are interested in the three centuries of Russian history spanning the mid-1600's to the early 1900's, this is a very interesting and accessible survey. While it does concentrate on the Tsars, particularly their foibles (little things like mass murder), it gives sufficient context to put it in Russian and European context. Having recently read the biography of Catherine the Gr This was my 4th Russia book in as many months and will probably end my binge. That is not a criticism of the book. If you are interested in the three centuries of Russian history spanning the mid-1600's to the early 1900's, this is a very interesting and accessible survey. While it does concentrate on the Tsars, particularly their foibles (little things like mass murder), it gives sufficient context to put it in Russian and European context. Having recently read the biography of Catherine the Great, I was able to judge this by comparison. It covers substantially all the same ground but in a more condensed form. Perhaps if I has read this first, I would not have needed to read that biography. If you like bigger than life and often eccentric characters, you will enjoy this history.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Aune

    It's hard to say if any of the the biographical details in this book could be described as "secret". Most of the scandalous information about the Romanov dynasty covered in he book was publicly and internationally known at the time. The author eschews any tsar he deems as boring as well as any meaningful commentary on the actual policies of the tsars, and instead spends an unnecessary amount of time focusing on Catherine the Great's sex life (as if she never accomplished anything else). Also, th It's hard to say if any of the the biographical details in this book could be described as "secret". Most of the scandalous information about the Romanov dynasty covered in he book was publicly and internationally known at the time. The author eschews any tsar he deems as boring as well as any meaningful commentary on the actual policies of the tsars, and instead spends an unnecessary amount of time focusing on Catherine the Great's sex life (as if she never accomplished anything else). Also, the author uses very questionable primary sources and recycled secondary sources, meaning that there are better books on the subject that probably include the exact same scandalous and sordid details

  26. 5 out of 5

    Saurabh

    I dont really know what I was expecting given the subtitle. But something better. This is too juvenile and too boring. Useless details of Tsars' lives are mentioned like some huge scandal. It's like a tabloid minus the entertaining fakery. I give the extra star for the truthiness and the research that has gone in (but it's such a waste). Also I read this as audiobook, and Enn Reitel who narrates it is the worst narrator I have ever heard. He does not merely. Pause in the middle. Of Sentences. He I dont really know what I was expecting given the subtitle. But something better. This is too juvenile and too boring. Useless details of Tsars' lives are mentioned like some huge scandal. It's like a tabloid minus the entertaining fakery. I give the extra star for the truthiness and the research that has gone in (but it's such a waste). Also I read this as audiobook, and Enn Reitel who narrates it is the worst narrator I have ever heard. He does not merely. Pause in the middle. Of Sentences. He pauses in the middle of suffi. Ciently long words. Combine this with an emotionless drony voice, and you dont want to listen to this while driving late.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    I enjoy all of Michael Farquhar's books and was happy that he finally tackled the Tsars. As usual, he had some things that are fairly well known, Tsar Nicholas and family. While other things were you may never have heard of, Ivan the Terrible hitting the Tsarevitch's wife until she miscarried then when his son came to confront Ivan he hit his son on the head and killed him which eventually ended his line. It was a bit harder for me to get into than his other books and I had to take a few breaks I enjoy all of Michael Farquhar's books and was happy that he finally tackled the Tsars. As usual, he had some things that are fairly well known, Tsar Nicholas and family. While other things were you may never have heard of, Ivan the Terrible hitting the Tsarevitch's wife until she miscarried then when his son came to confront Ivan he hit his son on the head and killed him which eventually ended his line. It was a bit harder for me to get into than his other books and I had to take a few breaks while reading it. If you enjoy Tsarist Russian history I recommend it.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Redsteve

    Meh. More of a brief popular history of the Romanov dynasty. I was already familiar with all of the dirty/crazy bits and the Farquhar's style is not as humorous as the quoted reviews would lead you to believe. For Russian history, I'll stick with Massey.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marsha Boyd

    Horrible. Do not read. Do not touch this book. It is filled with just plain errors. I wanted a quick easy history read but this is not it - so many mistakes. I cannot believe this got past a publisher. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jill Crosby

    Nothing new, nothing secret here. Just a quick, occasionally incorrect narrative of the public policies of Russia's tsars. Draws heavily on Robert Massie & Greg King's scholarship; a disappointment Nothing new, nothing secret here. Just a quick, occasionally incorrect narrative of the public policies of Russia's tsars. Draws heavily on Robert Massie & Greg King's scholarship; a disappointment

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