cactuswatcher: (Default)
( Jan. 11th, 2017 09:58 am)
Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs by Douglas Smith.

It's difficult to decide how to review this book. It's biography, but it spends a lot of space telling stories about Rasputin that, as the author assures us, are completely false. It's an important part of the Rasputin story. But isn't biography supposed to be more about the subject than about the fictitious stories about the subject? Maybe it could better be called social history?

Rasputin was not quite the person we learned about in high school. But there was enough of that scandalous person in him to cause all kinds of problems in the decade plus between the Russian revolution of 1905 and February Revolution in 1917.Facts and implications drawn from the book about Rasputin )

The book is very long and in some places very intense. It's full of early 20th century Russian newspaper stories about Rasputin that would have surely been judged as libelous in a country with a better legal system than pre-revolution Russia. There are so many of the stories that sometimes I got lost and confused over what Smith was trying to say was fact and what was nasty fiction. I think someone who hasn't had some experience with Russian history could get totally lost in the mass of Russian names in the book, which English speakers often find confusing anyway. It would have been a huge help to have a list of the main personages in the book listed with their government posts, and perhaps a short family tree to sort out all the Grand Dukes. Smith did attempt to refer to many of the extended royal family using their family nicknames, but without some list to refer to, that got to be yet another layer of confusion. I would say that the book is mostly for specialists, but it does serve as a warning of how 'public opinion' can get out of hand when dealing with an unpopular figure in very trying times.
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