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The family Romanov : murder, rebellion, and…
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The family Romanov : murder, rebellion, and the fall of imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming

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A well-researched history of the fall of the decline of the Tsar and the fall of the Imperial Russian Empire. Includes photographs, bibliography, source notes. ( )
  pmlyayakkers | Jun 20, 2014 |
Richie’s Picks: THE FAMILY ROMANOV: MURDER, REBELLION & THE FALL OF IMPERIAL RUSSIA by Candace Fleming, Random House/Schwartz & Wade Books, July 2014, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-375-86782-8

“Short, with a neatly trimmed beard and large, soft blue eyes, Nicholas hardly looked like the imposing ruler of Russia. And yet this unassuming man reigned over 130 million subjects and one-sixth of the planet’s land surface--an area so vast that as night fell along the western edge of his territory, day was already breaking on the eastern border. His realm stretched from Poland to Japan and from the Arctic Ocean to the borders of Turkey, the Himalayas, and China. The richest monarch in the world, his family wealth was once estimated at $45 billion (in today’s U.S. currency). Every year he drew an income of 24 million gold rubles ($240 million today) from the state treasury, which derived most of its income from taxes and fees levied on the tsar’s subjects. And if he needed more, he simply appropriated it. He owned thirty palaces; estates in Finland, Poland, and the Crimea (all part of Russia at the time); millions of acres of farmland; gold and silver mines, as well as oil and timber reserves; an endless collection of priceless paintings and sculptures; and five yachts, two private trains, and countless horses, carriages, and cars. His vaults overflowed with a fortune in jewels.”

Meanwhile, outside of the palaces:

“Often there was little to eat but dark bread. It was a staple of their diet, and peasant housewives tried to stretch the loaves by mixing clay, ground straw, or birch bark into the flour.”

In an extraordinary narrative written for middle school and high school readers, Candace Fleming has brought to life the life of the last royal family in Russia. Spanning the years 1881 to 1918, THE FAMILY ROMANOV provides an intimate and detailed account of the life of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife, Empress Alexandra, and their five children.

Interspersed with the primary narrative about the Romanov family are chapters that reveal the growing discontent in Russia which arose in the wake of migration to the cities. That evolution led to an increase in educated urban workers. From the workers’ strikes of 1905, up through 1917 when Lenin seized power, we see a growing demand for change. There was a broadening hope that the government would respond to the desires of average people for a better life. (A chapter near the end of the book briefly lays out the stark realities of what became of life in Russia after the Romanovs, during the years of Lenin and Stalin.)

These two sides of the story are further enlightened through the inclusion of excerpts from first-person accounts of some who lived back in the Romanov years.

“While all this was happening, Nicholas’s train was carrying him back to Stavka. As he chugged eastward, he blithely wrote to his wife, ‘I will miss my half-hourly game of cards every evening, but vow to take up dominoes again in my spare time.’”

THE FAMILY ROMANOV reveals so well how a monarch like Tsar Nicholas II was, underneath, just a run-of-the-mill person. His only extraordinary characteristic was being born the first male offspring of a current or future monarch, entitling him, in due course, to become Tsar. Indeed, if there is anything else to be said about Nicholas II being in some way extraordinary, it would be that he was extraordinarily clueless. He was clueless as to the horrible conditions under which most people lived; clueless about the ineptitude of the appointees to which he entrusted the WWI effort; clueless about his wife running his government into the ground with the help of a charlatan named Rasputin; and clueless about the revolution that came crashing in on him like a tidal wave.

In the process of writing the book, Candace Fleming spent years researching this era. Her preparation also included visiting many of the locations in Russia that we read about here. THE FAMILY ROMANOV certainly meets the standards for young people’s nonfiction in the twenty-first century, with three dozen pages of source notes for quotations along with bibliographic citations.

“If we started in 1960, and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. If that were the case, the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour...So my question is, what happened to the other $14.75?”
-- Elizabeth Warren (2013)

While the Romanov reign in Russia a century ago is far removed from today’s America, there are ways in which THE FAMILY ROMANOV reveals that plenty of public and societal issues never go away.

For instance, the book shows the workers and peasants organizing and fighting to wrest away some of the influence of the wealthy. I can’t help but be reminded of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have reinforced the power of wealthy people to bolster their own interests at the expense of the rest of us.

We also see how a rapid rise in urban literacy rates in Russia a century ago coincided with the rapid growth of discontent and the movement toward revolution. Some of us may see this as relevant when considering today’s right-wing attacks on public education and educational standards.

Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com
BudNotBuddy@aol.com
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  richiespicks | May 20, 2014 |
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