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Wicked: Grigory Rasputin, Holy Man or Mad…
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Wicked: Grigory Rasputin, Holy Man or Mad Monk?

by Enid A. Goldberg, Norman Itzkowitz

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Enid A. Goldberg and Norman Itzkowitz’s Grigory Rasputin: Holy Man or Mad Monk? (part of the Wicked History series) is a clever, easily-accessible presentation of the infamous Russian mystic. While the enigmatic Rasputin lived a life shrouded in mystery, there is enough documentation of his life for Goldberg and Itzkowitz to craft a believable portrait of his history. Of course, it is a difficult task to summarize the life of one of history’s strangest figures in a concise 122 pages; however, Goldberg and Itzkowitz manage to pull it off – and to make the whole shebang interesting enough for readers of all ages.

With its cartoonish covers, creepy fonts, and sensationalized chapter headings, the Wicked History series seems to be modeled on Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events: clearly, this biography series is targeted at middle-school readers who are slowly graduating to more mature (and sinister) subject matter. Like the Lemony Snicket books, Grigory Rasputin tackles disturbing topics with a dark sense of humor; for example, Goldberg and Itzkowitz even include a picture of Rasputin’s bloody, frozen corpse with the caption “iced” in a bloody red font. Obviously, this is not your typical, sterile history book, and there is nothing boring about this text.

Although I found Grigory Rasputin in my high school library, the prose is simplistic enough for developing readers to comprehend – which means that struggling students of all age groups (English learners or otherwise) can read a “high interest” book without getting bogged down in more sophisticated and inaccessible writing. In the end, Goldberg and Itzkowitz present Rasputin’s story in an engaging fashion and manage to make history “cool” and spooky for today’s children, many of whom might otherwise feel disconnected from European history. ( )
  farfromkansas | Nov 11, 2010 |
Perusing the young adult library section the other day I came across an interesting looking set of biographies. The Scholastic "Wicked History" series appears to highlight some of the most nefarious figures in history published in a non-threatening and teen appealing manner. Since I've always had issues with getting bored reading biographies, no matter how interested I am in the subject, I decided to give the series a shot (even though I'm totally not a teen.)

The first I chose, simply because the name was familiar, but I had no clue who he was, was, Grigory Rasputin Holy Man or Mad Monk? For those that don't know (such as I) Rasputin was a peasant born in Siberia who eventually became the spiritual leader to the last tsar and tsarina of Russia, Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov. This royal couple I had only ever heard of due to the Anastasia cartoon although nothing of the Anastasia mystery was touched upon in this book. This particular biography seemed to dwell mainly on Rasputin's reputation in seducing women, mad drinking and his influence on the Russian royals, although it did mention in passing his wife, three children, his pilgrimages and fabled healing abilities. It is hard to make a determination knowing that all this information is from third hand and potentially biased sources what to really make of Rasputin. On one hand there are accounts of how violent he was and on the other there are accounts of his urging love and peace above all. His apparent influence on the Russian royals was derived from his calming presence and care of their son, Alexis, who had hemophilia (there is also an interesting side tidbit about how hemophilia became known as the "royal disease" after being passed down from Queen Victoria to her granddaughters who were later married off to promote various political alliances with other countries.)

I was interested in the fact that Rasputin continuously urged the tsar not to enter WWI (although he did, losing thousands of soldiers in the process) and apparently still advised on who to put in charge of said military troops. Accounts of Rasputin's death seemed amazing to say the least as he lived through a poisoning and multiple gunshot wounds only to drown in an ice river. There is one particularly disturbing picture of Rasputin's frozen corpse included with some of the more interestingly staid photographs in the center of the book.

I will say that despite the rather tabloidish leanings of this little biography I think it would nicely serve the purpose of holding the attention of its reader while giving an interesting enough overview of whom this person may have been. It might also serve to inspire further interest in reviewing this part of history, not just for Rasputin, but for the events that took place during his life. ( )
  Jenson_AKA_DL | Sep 14, 2008 |
This book is part of the Wicked History Series by Scholastic. It does exactly what it was meant to do, draw relucatant readers, primarily male, into reading a non-fiction piece. It is done through the promise of dark tales, graphic images that help the reader follow the geography and people contained in the book, and length. Although I found the information contained within informative, it was not sufficient for me. I think it would be enough, though, for a middle school student. One of the good features contained is the reluctance that the author has in defining Grigory as good or evil. I think many readers will like the open-endness of this, though others want it spoon-feed to them. ( )
  karenraebennett | May 14, 2008 |
One of the first four titles in Scholastic's new Wicked History series, this book is sure to please reluctant teen readers. It's gripping from the first page as it starts with Rasputin's murder and then backtracks to his childhood and covers his life. Photos accompany the text and separate text boxes break things up with in-detail coverage of certain aspects of the book like hemophilia and World War I. The book concludes by asking whether Rasputin really was evil. It gives a two-page review of the bad and the good in Rasputin's life and asks readers, "What do you think: Was Rasputin truly wicked?" An index, glossary, short list of sources, and suggestions for further reading are included. ( )
  abbylibrarian | Jan 12, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Enid A. Goldbergprimary authorall editionscalculated
Itzkowitz, Normanmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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An introduction to the life of Grigory Rasputin, who claimed to have mystical, God-given powers--and the rulers of early twentieth-century Russia believed him.

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