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On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confid On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet. But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true story of Rasputin's life and death has remained shrouded in myth. A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history's most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity--man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.


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On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confid On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet. But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true story of Rasputin's life and death has remained shrouded in myth. A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history's most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity--man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.

30 review for Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    “The life of Rasputin is one of the most remarkable in modern history. It reads like a dark fairy tale. An obscure, uneducated peasant from the wilds of Siberia receives a calling from God and sets out in search of the true faith, a journey that leads him across the vast expanses of Russia for many years before finally bringing him to the palace of the tsar. The royal family takes him in and is bewitched by his piety, his unerring insights into the human soul, and his simple peasant ways. Miracu “The life of Rasputin is one of the most remarkable in modern history. It reads like a dark fairy tale. An obscure, uneducated peasant from the wilds of Siberia receives a calling from God and sets out in search of the true faith, a journey that leads him across the vast expanses of Russia for many years before finally bringing him to the palace of the tsar. The royal family takes him in and is bewitched by his piety, his unerring insights into the human soul, and his simple peasant ways. Miraculously, he saves the life of the heir to the throne, but the presence of this outsider, and the influence he wields with the tsar and tsarita, angers the great men of the realm and they lure him into a trap and kill him. Many believed the holy peasant had foreseen his death and prophesied that should anything happen to him, the tsar would lose his throne. And so he does, and the kingdom he once ruled is plunged into unspeakable bloodletting and misery for years…” - Douglas Smith, Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs Everyone knows at least something about Rasputin. Take, for instance, my 6 year-old daughter, Emilia. Recently, I was sitting on the couch, watching the 1971 biopic Nicholas and Alexandra, which covers the downfall of the Romanov dynasty. When Emilia walked in, Rasputin had just been introduced to Empress Alexandra by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich. She hopped up on the couch, always eager to watch a “daddy movie,” and immediately asked: “Is that the villain?” Intrigued by the question (Rasputin was not doing anything overtly villainous, other than look super intense), I replied: “Why do you think he’s the villain?” “Because that’s Rasputin!” she said. Surprised at her knowledge of Russian history, we discussed the matter further. Perhaps unsurprisingly, her facts came from Disney’s Anastasia, which I didn't know she’d seen, and have never watched myself. She described the plot to me (Rasputin a sorcerer? Banished by Nicholas II?) and I cringed in horror. “That’s not what really happened,” I said. “Then what happened?” she asked. “I’ll tell you later,” I dodged, not quite ready to explain the fate of the Romanov girls, their sickly brother, or their parents, in that awful basement of the Ipatiev House. Emilia's conception of Rasputin does a good job illustrating his legacy. We’ve all heard the name. We’d probably recognize his face (those eyes, that beard). And we all have a bunch of preconceived notions about him, most of them negative. Douglas Smith’s ponderous Rasputin attempts to set the record straight. In 680 dense pages of text, he tries to knock down literally every rumor and hyperbolic anecdote and false legend that ever swirled about the Siberian starets who has been blamed with toppling an empire. He succeeds in stripping away most of the falsehoods. Once he’s done, unfortunately, there’s not enough left of the man to justify this enormous biography. When I say this is 680 pages long, I don’t think it gives an accurate indication of Rasputin’s actual length. It feels like a thousand pages. More to the point, it probably would have been, if Smith had been able to find out anything about the first three decades of Rasputin’s life, before he stepped onto the historical stage. Grigory Rasputin was a Siberian peasant turned pilgrim who gained a following due to his devoutness and perceived abilities as a healer. Introduced to Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarita Alexandra by Grand Duke Nikolai, he was warmly received by a Royal Couple who were quite susceptible to charismatic religious figures. (Smith, as an example of his thoroughness, devotes an entire chapter to Monsieur Philippe, a charlatan enthusiastically embraced - for a time - by Nicholas and Alexandra). The Rasputin of legend, which is to say, the Rasputin of conventional knowledge, gained his power over the Tsar and Tsarina by his ability to “heal” Alexei, the young hemophiliac heir to the throne. When Russia entered World War I, and began to suffer massive casualties, shortages, and labor unrest, he came to be a lightning rod of criticism. Both the left and right saw him as a devil on Tsar Nicholas II’s shoulder, controlling him for some nefarious ends. In Smith’s recollection, Rasputin’s role was much more tangential. Yes, Empress Alexandra believed that his prayers helped Alexei during various illnesses, but Smith shows that the Royal Couple had brought Rasputin into their confidence for reasons beyond their ailing son. Yes, Rasputin gave Nicholas a lot of advice, but Smith shows that Nicholas ignored most of it. Rasputin’s historical importance, then, resides not in what he actually did, but in what people thought he did. And boy, people had a lot of thoughts! The number of people who hated Rasputin is staggering. It reminds me of a classic episode of The Simpsons, when Sideshow Bob asks Homer: “How can one ordinary man have so many enemies?” To which Homer responds: “I’m a people person…who drinks.” As was Rasputin. Despite his faith, which Smith finds honestly held, Rasputin loved to drink, flirt, conduct the occasional affair, and visit the occasional prostitute. From these kernels of truth sprang a cottage industry of defamatory reports: Rasputin the rapist; Rasputin the organizer of orgies; Rasputin the cult member (or khlyst). One Rasputin hater went so far as to claim, in a single broadside, that Rasputin both conducted sexual affairs and had a non-functioning penis. It takes a certain depth of hatred to make that claim! Smith’s way of cutting through the fog is meticulous and commendable. It also makes for a slogging read. A typical chapter of Rasputin will begin with an entertaining story from Rasputin’s life. Just as you reach the end, Smith will tell you that’s the “accepted” story, by which he means “a lie.” He will then go on to unearth the evidence he has produced (this is massively researched) showing what he thinks actually happened. In terms of thoroughness, I give him props. In terms of literary style, not so much. There were times I became utterly perplexed as to which version of the truth was the Smith-approved version. It was like watching Rashomon in Japanese with Cyrillic subtitles. On top of that are the characters. Oh, there are so many! Hundreds of names, many appearing just once or twice. I couldn’t keep them straight. Now, I am not an expert in Russian history. I have, though, read more than a few books on this period. Even with that background, I couldn’t keep up with the depth of detail. I was constantly flipping back to remind myself who was who. (Honestly, I think the simple addition of a dramatis personae in the beginning would have improved Rasputin at least 25%). This took me a good long while to finish. Between the careful parsing of truth and fiction, there are moments of great clarity and insight. I really liked Smith’s discussion on Rasputin’s actual “healing powers,” in which Smith utilized modern-day studies on the power of prayer, positive thinking, and touch to give an approximation of what gifts the holy man might actually have possessed. Rasputin’s murder, too, is given a full discussion, and does a decent job making sense of all the different narratives that sprang from it. Rasputin certainly has its rewards for those who have the patience to finish. I definitely feel like I have a better grasp of his role in the Romanov collapse. I don’t think Smith was able to find the beating heart of the man, but he certainly managed to humanize Rasputin. It struck me, for instance, that when Prince Yusupov arrived to take Rasputin back to his home, to kill him, Rasputin had just put two of his daughters to bed. Grigory Rasputin has become a lot of things to history; at one time, though, he was a father tucking in his children. Ultimately, Smith’s Rasputin is the price you pay for historical fidelity. It does its job. It clears away the exaggerations, the lies, the adornments of myth, to draw a portrait that hews closer to reality. It also strips away all the things that got me interested in reading about Rasputin in the first place.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    “There is no Rasputin without stories about Rasputin.” My mother had a multi-volume history of the Romanov dynasty in her library, and while I can’t remember the author, I do remember thumbing through it in my late teens, not understanding most of it but being quite struck with the few pages about Rasputin’s assassination. Poison-laced cakes, gun shots AND being tossed in a freezing river had not been enough to kill him, according to that book: he had ultimately drowned, unable to escape the rol “There is no Rasputin without stories about Rasputin.” My mother had a multi-volume history of the Romanov dynasty in her library, and while I can’t remember the author, I do remember thumbing through it in my late teens, not understanding most of it but being quite struck with the few pages about Rasputin’s assassination. Poison-laced cakes, gun shots AND being tossed in a freezing river had not been enough to kill him, according to that book: he had ultimately drowned, unable to escape the rolled-up carpet his assassins had carefully bundled him in. The story (fabricated, as it turns out, mostly by Rasputin’s murderer!) left a strong mark on my mind, and is probably the (admittedly weird and morbid) source of my interest in all things Russian: but I had not really read anything more detailed about the so-called Mad Monk until my mother-in-law surprised me with this book last Christmas. I was aware of all kinds of stories, none of which were entirely verifiable, and that in many ways, the myth had taken over the reality of the man, and this book had a reputation as a very even and balanced biography of Grigory Rasputin, who was both a man and a legend, even when he was alive. Douglas Smith is one of the first historians to have had access to declassified documents from the tsarist era, so a lot of his sources are actually contemporary to the events he wrote about, and not simply based on endless retellings. The portrait painted by Smith is that of a complicated, but very human man. Someone with great intelligence and faith, but a streak of ambition and stubbornness that ran very deep. I was fascinated to learn that most of what we think we know about Rasputin (his drinking, his very active sex life, his healing and hypnotic powers, etc.) are very, very exaggerated, but that the truth under those stories is no less complex – if less scandalous. One aspect of this book that I found particularly interesting is the Smith emphasizes that a lot of what we think as extraordinary in regards to Rasputin’s life and relationship with the royal family was actually not that uncommon for the time and place. There were over a million wandering spiritual seekers over Russia at the time, so his nomadic lifestyle was not unusual, and while we may now judge Nicholas and Alexandra as idiots who loved snake oil salesmen, the whole of Europe was enamoured with occultism at the time: séances we simply a way for rich and bored people to amuse themselves – whether or not they believed being a different matter altogether. So when those two circumstances overlap, a homeless monk who conducts miraculous healings is not the weirdest thing that could have caught the royal couple’s attention. I learned many things that did not entirely surprise me: that Rasputin was used as a object of propaganda both for the Left and the Right makes sense, as everyone who knew him seem to have perceived him in a different, yet equally extreme way: people either saw him as a living saint or as the incarnation of Satan. Smith takes pain to remind his readers that Rasputin was neither: he was a Siberian peasant, a father, a man who cared deeply about his family and about those he considered his friends, including the royal couple. Did he ever abuse the perception other people had of him? Certainly, but there seem to be no evidence that he lusted for money or political power for its own sake. It’s much more appalling to read about the tsar’s utter lack of character, about his wife’s complete misreading of the political and social climate of the country she lived in, and about the cold-bloodedness of the people who were ultimately responsible for Rasputin’ murder than to read about a country man who ate with his fingers, loved to dance and have a drink and cared for his children very deeply. The tone of this biography is certainly more forgiving of Rasputin than other works I have seen on the topic, but it is also not an attempt to make a saint or martyr out of him. Rather, Smith tries to put him in a greater context to explain why he was so remarkable and so shocking at the particular time and place where he happened to be, and how this remarkableness, for better or worse, let history to unfold as it did. It is also striking to see that the concept of fake news is clearly nothing new: the press published all kinds of falsehoods about Rasputin, which could have easily been disproved, but were accepted as truth by almost everyone, mostly because it was more convenient for them to believe extravagant exaggeration than to think more deeply about who profited from everyone believing those lies. I was especially struck by a passage commenting on the fact that it was much easier for the Russian people to believe that treason was the root of all the problems in the country, because the alternative was to think about their inept government, the famine and casualties of WWI and other aspects of their circumstances than entitled them rethinking the way they lived. Does that sound familiar at all, or is that just me? The 4 star rating is because the narrative is sometimes bogged down by a lot of irrelevant details about the various people involved directly or indirectly in Rasputin’s life, and those details are sometime repetitive. I also wished we had gotten a more intimate image of the man, and not simply what everyone said about him, but I also understand how nearly impossible that is to accomplish without wild speculation, given the extremely limited amount of verifiable information available. If you are interested in the history of the Romanov or the Russian Revolution, this is a very interesting and informative book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Douglas Smith seeks not only to pen a comprehensive biography of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but also to dispel many of the myths associated with the man throughout his life. While history has developed many apocryphal tales, there were those at the time just as eager to spin stories to ruin the reputation of this gentleman. It would appear that Smith’s overarching thesis in this massive work is to separate the myths from the concrete facts, substantiated not simply by newspaper accounts or jou Douglas Smith seeks not only to pen a comprehensive biography of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, but also to dispel many of the myths associated with the man throughout his life. While history has developed many apocryphal tales, there were those at the time just as eager to spin stories to ruin the reputation of this gentleman. It would appear that Smith’s overarching thesis in this massive work is to separate the myths from the concrete facts, substantiated not simply by newspaper accounts or journal entries by a peppering of Russians, but to delve deeper to see what could be supported from a variety of viewpoints, always difficult due to the span of time and likely poor record keeping after an ideological purge in 1917. Smith opens the tome with a significant admission; there was very little documented evidence of of Grigori Rasputin for the first thirty years of his life. Cobbling together what little was known, Smith shares that Rasputin grew up in a rural Siberian community to a peasant family. Rasputin’s father was well-known in his community, but not for the best reasons. It would seem that the elder Rasputin was quite a sexual deviant, spreading his form of ‘love’ with whomever he could get close to him. Smith posits that this may be where some of the fodder for future stories originated, as would become apparent later in the biography. The entire family was without formal education at a time when the Russian average was quite low as well, though it would seem Grigori was able to piece together his own form of Russian, enough that historians (and those who received his letters) could comprehend the gist of his writing. Rasputin married and bore three children, two daughters and a son, while still living as a Siberian peasant. This family unit, while they did not follow Rasputin to his life in the limelight, appeared to support him throughout, baffling to the reader who reflects on this later during the biography’s more sensational tales. When he left home, Rasputin used what some called his ‘hypnotic eyes’ and persuasive nature to pull people into his inner circle, where he would sometimes heal by laying hands on them. It was only later that Rasputin added a degree of faith to his persona, utilising the power of the Orthodox Church to have people feel that his powers came from a connection to God. As Smith explores throughout, Rasputin was often able to convince people that the power of prayer flowed through him and that many of his divinations came from this connection to God. Rasputin caught the eye of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, both of whom were in need of help to cure their son of haemophilia. Rasputin convinced them that he could help by laying hands on the young Tsesarevich Alexei. Praying over the young boy, Rasputin appeared able to lessen the pains Alexei felt, thereby convincing the Romanov rulers that he was a good person. However, for reasons not entirely clear, Rasputin began having his name sullied in the Russian press, much as his father did back in Siberia. Newspapers would mock Rasputin’s prayers as part of a scam and highlight the man’s sexual appetite. Woven throughout the text are tales that Smith has been able to extract regarding Rasputin’s penchant for bedding numerous prostitutes a night or to find himself in sexually compromising situations with many of the Russian hierarchy. Still, as the press churned out these stories, the Tsar and Tsarina refused to believe them, going so far as to find scientific explanations for Rasputin’s sexual nature as being tied to strong religious devotion. While Rasputin remained on hand to offer his insights when they were sought, his outward appearance was anything but alluring. Smith cites numerous journals and memoirs that depict Rasputin as dirty and unkept in appearance, which only fuels some of the ongoing stories about his Siberian peasant background and how he ought not be mixing with the upper class. While all this continued, Europe was soon pulled apart by war, with Russia in the middle of it. Rasputin begged Tsar Nicholas to stay out of the fray, but Russian troops prepared and departed to defend their allies, something Rasputin predicted might bring down the Romanovs and change Russia forever. Little did anyone know just how right he was. With the Tsar away on numerous political and business trips, Rasputin agreed to protect the Tsarina and her family for long periods of time. This also led to his advising how to handle military maneuvers and quell the ongoing distress amongst the common Russian. Smith does draw some interesting arguments around Rasputin’s leanings during the Great War, tying together the Tsarina’s closeness to the holy man and her Germanic ancestry. This was another issue the press used to pain Rasputin as a less than admirable fellow. During the part of the biography, Smith exemplifies how Russia was at Rasputin’s whim, with both the Tsar and Tsarina turning to him for advice and taking his opinions as gospel (if you will pardon the loose pun). With all this hatred, both in print and by people in general, there were numerous plots to extinguish Rasputin’s life, including a stabbing by a woman eventually deemed not of sound mind. Smith offers some excellent details around the major plot to kill Grigori Rasputin once and for all, including an elaborate plan to poison him. When that failed to work—stunning everyone who witnessed the event—Rasputin was shot until he was assuredly dead, then tossed into the river. Smith offers up a few detailed accounts from memoirs, citing that there were certainly some extrapolations to better ‘sell’ it after the fact, including the Grigori Rasputin was “the reincarnation of Satan”. Additionally, while many may know nothing about the man, the sequence of Rasputin’s murder seems etched into the minds of many, as it has become part of global folklore over the past century. Interesting to some readers will be Smith’s exploration of some of the international flavouring of the murder of Rasputin, including the use of British agents or influence by some Europeans governments to use Russians to extinguish the proselytising of Rasputin, which stirred up the populace, at least those who were still willing to listen. Either way, a significant part of the population seemed exuberant when hearing of Rasputin’s death. This was soon followed by the exile of the Romanovs and their eventual execution when Lenin’s Bolsheviks took the reins of power, a narrative that Smith presents effectively to end the tome. Can Rasputin be blamed for the fall of the Romanovs and the shape of the military campaign Russia undertook during the Great War? It would seem so, as Smith depicts a man who was never questioned and rarely contradicted by those in highest authority, even as many who surrounded the royals begged them to heed other advice. While it is not entirely clear just how close Rasputin was with Tsarina Alexandra, Smith makes it perfectly clear that she was entirely taken with his every word, dismissing anything others had to say. If Rasputin were not running the country, he certainly had a front row seat to whisper things into the ears of those in power, eventually dooming them for their fidelity. Douglas Smith does a stellar job presenting an encompassing view of the life and times of Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin. The vast amount of information offered gives the reader much on which to feast as they come to a final conclusion about the man and the role he played in bringing down the Romanovs. While there are a number of myths propagated through history, stories, and a Euro-pop song by Boney M, Smith does not completely erase their possibility, but wants to substantiate them with research and reliable documentation. This is surely a great asset for Smith and adds validity to this biography. Pulling on as much information as possible, Smith seeks to offer a chronological view of Rasputin’s life, working with both the Julian and Gregorian calendars to offer important dates (see the introductory chapter for a full explanation) that give history some additional strength. Culling through scores of documents and synthesising them, as well as trying to get the proper translation to ensure the true flavour of the delivery, is surely of utmost importance when dealing with so many falsehoods and such a significant smear campaign. Page after page of the biography is full of information that supports the many theses that Smith puts forward. The only downside that I have come to discover is the supersaturation of information, which left me feeling overloaded. While I understand Smith wants to make the point clearly, it would seem that there was just too much to try to comprehend. Rasputin is so very misunderstood, if we are to believe Smith, as well as being extremely polarising. Truth be told, the lay reader may find the amount of supporting documentation exceeds what they can digest. Then again, others may bask in it (as I usually do), and seek more to fill in the minute gaps left out of Smith’s final publication. Overall, I was stunned with all the information I gleaned from this single volume biography and can only hope that I can find more of Smith’s writing to allow me to learn even more about the region and its complex history. Kudos, Mr. Smith, as you have surely helped me to see just how much there is to know about Rasputin to better understand this most maligned man. Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/ A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    The other day I heard a talking head quip that Steve Bannon was Donald Trump’s Rasputin. Recently I have brought myself up to speed on Mr. Bannon and there really does seem to be some similarities, i.e., access to a person with autocratic tendencies, belief in alternative reality and truth, but the rumors of debauchery do not really match up. All in all I decided that a read of Douglas Smith’s new biography RASPUTIN: FAITH, POWER AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE ROMANOVS was in order. Grigory Yefimovich The other day I heard a talking head quip that Steve Bannon was Donald Trump’s Rasputin. Recently I have brought myself up to speed on Mr. Bannon and there really does seem to be some similarities, i.e., access to a person with autocratic tendencies, belief in alternative reality and truth, but the rumors of debauchery do not really match up. All in all I decided that a read of Douglas Smith’s new biography RASPUTIN: FAITH, POWER AND THE TWILIGHT OF THE ROMANOVS was in order. Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin’s life has produced numerous myths concerning his influence on the Romanovs; his religiosity, or lack of it; his sexual prowess, and his mystical hold on large segments of the Russian population. According to Smith these myths have been formulated and put forth in numerous biographies that have created an echo chamber for their constant retelling. Therefore, the question must be asked, why another biography? The year 1991 is the key in that the Soviet Union collapsed and as a result the Russian archives have become more accessible which Smith takes wonderful advantage of by uncovering a number of documents that reformulate many storylines in Rasputin’s vita. Smith cleverly points out that there really is “no” Rasputin without all the stories about him. Smith’s goal is to uncover and investigate the most important myths, and to a large degree he is remarkably successful. In achieving his goal Smith has written an almost encyclopedic narrative that seems to cover all aspects of his subject delivering the final word on every scrap of evidence in newspapers and memoirs. The book will become a wonderful research tool because of Smith’s prodigious research and facility with a number of languages. In creating his narrative, at times, Smith goes a little overboard the result is a book that is “overlong, overcrowded with names and details, serious and earnest (there are a few jokes), but a valuable corrective to the more sensational and fanciful biographies available in English.”* The first thirty years of Rasputin’s life is like a black hole of which we know almost nothing, making it much easier to create myths. Rasputin was never formally educated and remained illiterate until his early adulthood. Up until the age of twenty eight, Rasputin appeared to be headed toward the life of a typical Siberian peasant; farming, church, and married with children. In 1897 he seemed to have experienced some sort of vision and began a series of pilgrimages. His religious quest appears sincere as local priests could not adequately answers his questions about God and religion. He became a “Strannik,” a holy wanderer which was very common in Tsarist Russia. Rasputin was atypical from most pilgrims in that he retained a home in Pokrovskoe, and was married with three children as he went about developing his own version of peasant religious orthodoxy. According to Smith, Rasputin’s years of wandering were his university education and he developed a broad knowledge of the Russian social order and a strong understanding of human psychology, with a special talent for reading people. Rasputin learned how to talk to people and he could “speak freely about Holy Scripture and the meaning of God in a way unlike the priests with their book learning. His language was direct, personal, unmistakably alive, and earthy filled with references to daily life and the beauty of the natural world.” (27) This talent goes a long way to explain how he developed his own personality cult. Smith’s portrayal of Nicholas II and his German Tsarina, Alexandra is very perceptive and accurate. One of Alexandra’s major shortcomings was that she needed to control her privacy and shut out everyone but her immediate family. The feckless Nicholas could not get her to change her belief that the Russian people had an obligation to the Romanovs, not that the crown had an obligation to its subjects. The royal couple had a long history of dealing with “mystical types” before Rasputin arrived on the scene. The most important of which was Philippe Nazier-Vachot, or Monsieur Philippe a charlatan introduced to Alexandra by Militsa, who was married to a Grand Duke who was Nicholas’ cousin. These two are just the tip of the iceberg of the characters who believed in mysticism and the occult that Smith introduces us to that influence how the Tsar governed his people. Nicholas had a firm belief in the medieval notion of the mystical connection between the Tsar and the masses. Alexandra had been seeking a “holy man” before Rasputin arrived due to her own personal insecurity and perhaps awareness of her husband’s flaws which would undermine Nicholas’ power, prestige and effectiveness once Rasputin replaced Philippe. Alexandra needed to have blind trust in a spiritual advisor who spoke of higher truths and prophecies that satisfied her inner religiosity, and help instruct Nicholas on how to rule. This would lead to mistrust and machinations within the royal family, create intense gossip that tarnished the image of the monarchy, and repeated investigations into Rasputin life and actions as a number of people tried to open the Tsar’s eyes to what was transpiring right before his very eyes. Smith captures the intensity of Alexandra’s loyalty to Rasputin no matter what evidence investigations by the Duma (Russian parliament created by the October Manifesto during the 1905 Revolution) or the Ohkrana (Tsarist Secret police) produced. Stories of lewdness, debauchery, rumors of unacceptable behavior on the part of Rasputin could not shake Alexandra’s confidence and dependence on her “friend.” Historians have conjectured on how Rasputin was able to manipulate the Tsarina. It has generally been accepted that it was due to his ability to help Tsarevitch Alexei who suffered from hemophilia. It is agreed that Rasputin was able to calm the boy and get him to relax which allowed a decrease in capillary blood flow and aid the healing process. There were a number of occasions when Alexei’s doctors made his condition worse by constant prodding, while Rasputin reassured the boy and calmed him. However, Alexandra’s neurotic insecurity needs outweigh Rasputin’s calming effect on Alexei in explaining Rasputin’s hold on the monarchy. Smith takes the reader through the intricacies of eastern orthodoxy and the characters it produced as some priests support Rasputin, but eventually most do not and see him as the devil and an anti-Christ. The views of politicians and royal family members are examined and historical figures such as Prime Ministers Pytor Stolypin, Sergei Witte, and Vladimir Kokovstov are examined as they attempt to convince Nicholas of the effect Rasputin is having on the decline in popularity of his reign because of policy decisions that Alexandra’s “friend” influenced. The narrative unveils numerous plots some perpetuated by Rasputin and some by former acolytes that have turned against him to the point that some of these stories could be from an FX cable channel drama. The problem is many of them have a degree of truth and it reflects how low the Romanov dynasty had fallen in the eyes of its people. Smith also delves into Rasputin’s battles with the press, the Duma and the Holy Synod. He provides careful analysis of the strategies that were designed to separate Rasputin from the royal family and exile him to his home village in Siberia. Official after official, religious leader upon religious leader, and family members all approached Nicholas about the damage that the rumors about Rasputin, including those linking him to an affair with Alexandra, were having on his reign, but he just brushed them off. A number of high officials would lose their positions as Nicholas removed them upon the advice of Rasputin, and these battles would seal the break between the Duma and the Tsar. Nicholas became increasingly frustrated as his officials could not control newspapers whose reporting was so damaging. This problem was exacerbated once Russia was at war with Germany. Once the war broke out Nicholas would leave St. Petersburg for the front a good deal of the time, leaving Alexandra alone under the influence of her “friend.” As war news worsened, more and more rumors were publicized that Rasputin and the Tsarina were working with the enemy. It wasn’t just peasants and soldiers who began believing these rumors as Smith points out but foreign diplomats who feared a separate peace between Russia and Germany, making a revolution against the Tsar a patriotic act. Similar credence was given to the rumors of sexual scandals at court. It was said that the Tsarina was the mistress of Rasputin and the lesbian lover of Anna Vyrubova, her lady in waiting, who took part in orgies with both of them. Alexandra’s sexual corruption became a kind of metaphor for the diseased condition of the monarchy,” even though none of them had any bases in fact.** Smith provides unparalleled detail in all areas that the narrative ventures, which separates his biography from all others. But one must ask the question; is there too much detail, after all does the reader need to know the personalities, motivations, and actions of every scandal that existed? The outbreak and conduct of World War I sealed the fate of Rasputin and the monarchy. Perhaps Nicholas II’s worst decision was to replace Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich as Commander and Chief. Rumors persisted at court that Nikolaevich was the center of a movement to replace the royal couple and they feared he was providing the enemy Nicholas’ movements at the front. However, once Nicholas II took command he was away from Alexandra a great deal of the time providing Rasputin greater access and would have greater influence on decisions. Smith argues against this premise as the malleable Nicholas would be under greater influence by his officers and staff who were critics of Rasputin and the Tsarina. As these events unfolded during the spring of 1915 newspaper attacks against Rasputin reached new heights of absurdity and with it the reputation of the monarchy reached new lows. As to whether Rasputin dominated the crown and possessed unlimited power, Smith maintains a large degree of that power only “existed in the minds of others.” (440) The final third of the book deals with plots to kill Rasputin. Many believed and historians have conjectured as to whether Rasputin and Alexandra were German spies. Smith, as he does with many the myths he debunks puts this one to rest also arguing that there is no concrete evidence that Rasputin and Alexandra were tools of the Hohenzollerns. Smith then details more scandals and the ministerial merry go round that Nicholas’ government became during the war, as those who opposed Rasputin were replaced by people he approved of. This aggravated a number of people, most prominent of which was Price Felix Yusopov who organized a scheme to assassinate Rasputin, and with his co-conspirators carried out the murder during the evening of December 16-17, 1916. The book is brought to a conclusion discussing the investigation of Rasputin’s murder and setting aside the myths associated with it. Further, Smith explores the collapse of the Romanov dynasty which resulted in a wave of propaganda depicting Rasputin as the incarnation of evil and that the Russian people were finally set free. Smith is to be credited with the most comprehensive and up to date biography of Rasputin. At times difficult to plow through because of its detail, however, if you seek knowledge pertaining to Nicholas and Alexandra’s special “friend,” Smith’s effort will satiate you. PS. Rasputin was not as mean spirited as Steve Bannon seems to be! *Orlando Figes. “A Very Close Friend of the Family,” New York Review of Books, December 8, 2016. ** Figes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    Finished at 3 a.m.; I'll post soon. This just might be the most comprehensive study of Rasputin that's out there, and I do mean comprehensive, but my tired brain isn't up to thought right now. Finished at 3 a.m.; I'll post soon. This just might be the most comprehensive study of Rasputin that's out there, and I do mean comprehensive, but my tired brain isn't up to thought right now.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lukas Evan

    I'm not sure why reading a 700 page biography of Rasputin seemed like a good idea. I'm not sure why reading a 700 page biography of Rasputin seemed like a good idea.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Leah

    Saint or sinner... Douglas Smith starts his biography of Rasputin by laying out the two competing claims about him that were current during his life and still rumble on today: that he was the 'mad monk', the 'holy devil', debauched and wicked, practising profane religious rites, and with an unhealthy grip on the Tsar; or, that he was a true holy man and visionary, so much so that some groups within the Orthodox church are attempting to have him made a saint. He begins by telling us what little is Saint or sinner... Douglas Smith starts his biography of Rasputin by laying out the two competing claims about him that were current during his life and still rumble on today: that he was the 'mad monk', the 'holy devil', debauched and wicked, practising profane religious rites, and with an unhealthy grip on the Tsar; or, that he was a true holy man and visionary, so much so that some groups within the Orthodox church are attempting to have him made a saint. He begins by telling us what little is known of Rasputin's early years in a peasant village in Siberia. Smith shows how difficult it is to sift through the layers of later accounts to get to the truth, especially about someone who lived in a largely illiterate milieu. Some accounts describe him as dirty and uncouth, a thief and a horse-thief, but Smith says the original records don't support these claims. What is true is that he married and had several children, of whom many died. In his late twenties, he took to going off on pilgrimages, apparently a common occurrence in the Russia of that time. However, he looked after his family in financial terms and continued to return to his home village throughout his life. He gradually acquired a reputation as a starets, a kind of religious elder sought out for spiritual guidance. At this early stage, the book is very well written. Notes are kept out of the way at the back, so that the main text maintains a good flow without too many digressions into the minutiae of sources. Smith then takes the tale to the Romanov court, giving the background to the marriage and relationship of Nicholas and Alexandra. He gives a fascinating picture of the various strange religious sects that grew up in late 19th century Russia, and how susceptible the Romanovs and high society in general were to the latest 'holy man' to come along. Rasputin was not the first visionary to be taken up by the Royal couple. But because of the timing, when the state was already cracking, war was on its way and revolutionary fervour was building, he became a focus of much of what people despised about the ruling class. Unfortunately, once these excellent introductory chapters are out of the way, the rest of the book gets bogged down in a morass of rather repetitive detail. It tends to take the format of Smith telling us about reports of some unsavoury episode in Rasputin's life, and then going back over it to show that either it couldn't be true or that it can't be proven. As is always a problem with this period of Russian history, there's a constantly changing cast of characters near the throne, so that names came and went without me feeling I was getting to know much about them. When the book concentrates specifically on the Romanovs it feels focused, and I did get a good impression of how detached they were from the Russian people's opinion of them, especially Alexandra. But Rasputin himself felt ever vaguer as every story about him was shown to be at best misleading and at worst untrue. I felt I learned far more about who Rasputin wasn't than about who he was. Maybe that was the point, but it made for unsatisfactory reading from my perspective. There is a lot of information about the various efforts to persuade the Romanovs to give Rasputin up. For years he was under investigation and being tracked by the authorities, while the newspapers were printing ever more salacious details about his alleged debauchery. Again Smith goes into far too much detail; for example, on one occasion actually listing the names of the eight secret service men who were detailed to monitor him – information that surely should have been relegated to the notes if it is indeed required at all. And again, far more time is spent debunking false newspaper stories than detailing the true facts. I found this a frustrating read. Smith's research is obviously immense and the book does create a real impression of the strange, brittle society at the top of Russia and its desperate search for some kind of spiritual meaning or revelation. But the same clarity doesn't apply to Rasputin – I felt no nearer knowing the true character of the man at the end as at the beginning; if anything, I felt he had become even more obscure. Smith often seems like something of an apologist for him, although he never openly says so. But when, for example, he treats seriously the question of whether Rasputin was actually a genuine faith healer, then I fear the book began to lose credibility with me. The question of whether Rasputin was a debauched lecher living off his rich patrons or a holy man sent by God to save Russia seemed relatively easy to answer, and I found the book tended to overcomplicate the issue in an attempt to portray both sides equally. A bit like giving equal prominence to climate change deniers as to the 97% of scientists who know it to be true. The book has won awards, so clearly other people have been more impressed by it than I was. I do think it's an interesting if over-long read, but more for what it tells us about the last days of the Romanovs than for what it reveals about Rasputin. For me, the definitive biography of this uniquely intriguing life remains to be written. www.fictionfanblog.wordpress.com

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kayla A.

    This book is not successful as a biography of Rasputin, but works as a broader exploration of the context in Russia that saw to Rasputin's rise and fall. This aspect of the work was fascinating: how high-society Russians lost their faith in the Orthodox church and thus turned to "holy fools," how the peasants flocked to listen to mad monks and engage in sexual escapades to banish the demons of their flesh. I think Smith succeeded in showing that, in such circumstances, Rasputin was less a man an This book is not successful as a biography of Rasputin, but works as a broader exploration of the context in Russia that saw to Rasputin's rise and fall. This aspect of the work was fascinating: how high-society Russians lost their faith in the Orthodox church and thus turned to "holy fools," how the peasants flocked to listen to mad monks and engage in sexual escapades to banish the demons of their flesh. I think Smith succeeded in showing that, in such circumstances, Rasputin was less a man and more a physical manifestation of Russia's spiritual and political turning point. However, I do think Smith could have gotten that point across while still exploring the actual life and character of Grigory Rasputin (after all, that is what a biography is supposed to do). Smith devotes chapter upon chapter to hearsay, describing what acquaintances and the press said about Rasputin without really diving in to the words and actions of the man himself. He spends a good deal of time rebutting fanciful or deceitful accounts as to Rasputin's behavior, while offering only minimal analysis as to what the truth might actually be. While Smith made it clear repeatedly that, in his opinion, Rasputin was not a khylst (a religious sect involving ritualistic dancing and, purportedly, mass orgies), I am still not exactly sure what the man's religious beliefs really were in their substance. Moreover, important themes such as Rasputin's possible sectarian beliefs are not taken up at once, but are instead touched on a little here and then 300 pages later, so that I found the whole work to be choppy and disconnected. The book most certainly could have been much shorter, especially as there was not very much to it. It is less a biography of Rasputin than a chronicle of what everyone in Russian society had to say about him, and will likely leave you with multiple questions about what actually did happen after telling you what certainly didn't happen.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Walsh

    The essential book for the historian and scholar researching the life and influence of Rasputin and the end of the Romanov dynasty. 5 stars A formidable book (of over 800 pages)for the more casual reader of historic biographies. 3 Stars It relates the facts of Rasputin's life and relationships, but also describes incidents and conversations which the author concludes are partly or entirely false, and details rumors circulating at the time which were exaggerations or falsehoods. Some were deliber The essential book for the historian and scholar researching the life and influence of Rasputin and the end of the Romanov dynasty. 5 stars A formidable book (of over 800 pages)for the more casual reader of historic biographies. 3 Stars It relates the facts of Rasputin's life and relationships, but also describes incidents and conversations which the author concludes are partly or entirely false, and details rumors circulating at the time which were exaggerations or falsehoods. Some were deliberately circulated to undermine the royal family. It was interesting to learn that Rasputin's influence on the imperial family was even greater than believed. Through Empress Alexandra he usually had his way with political, military, legal and religious appointments, dismissals, banishments, and punishments. Alexandra had a history of being under the spell of Mystics, clairvoyants and religious fanatics and was easily influenced by the arrival of Rasputin at the palace. Czar Nicholas was weak willed, and dominated by his wife who passed on Rasputin's wishes as pleas and orders. He usually fell in line to please Alexandra. An exhaustive amount of research went into this book. A cast of hundreds of characters made it confusing to me. There was a collection of remarkable photos, political cartoons and posters.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This or Rasputin: The Untold Story or The Rasputin File? I have chosen to read Rasputin: The Untold Story first. I do wish Robert K. Massie would write a book just on Rasputin. This or Rasputin: The Untold Story or The Rasputin File? I have chosen to read Rasputin: The Untold Story first. I do wish Robert K. Massie would write a book just on Rasputin.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rennie

    Lots of important myth-busting but I don't feel much closer to knowing anything about who he actually was as opposed to who he wasn't. And in between the interesting bits, and especially after the first perfect, completely engrossing 200 or so pages, there was so much tedious, unrelated stuff. A lot of it was for setting context but it didn't really involve Rasputin. It was all tangentially related but just kind of plodding in the storytelling. And so many names. So, so many names. And the Boney Lots of important myth-busting but I don't feel much closer to knowing anything about who he actually was as opposed to who he wasn't. And in between the interesting bits, and especially after the first perfect, completely engrossing 200 or so pages, there was so much tedious, unrelated stuff. A lot of it was for setting context but it didn't really involve Rasputin. It was all tangentially related but just kind of plodding in the storytelling. And so many names. So, so many names. And the Boney M song in my head every day for the month I was reading it. I'm glad to have read it but also glad it's over.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Simona

    The book is a comprehensive record of Rasputin's whole life, with the focus on his relationship to the imperial family. Biography is based on a different sources and documents, and where is a source vague or unreliable author explicitly draw attention to it. Probably the most thoroughly researched book on Rasputin I've read so far and essential reading for all who are interested in how the Siberian peasant managed to become the most powerful/influential man in Russia. The book is an excellent an The book is a comprehensive record of Rasputin's whole life, with the focus on his relationship to the imperial family. Biography is based on a different sources and documents, and where is a source vague or unreliable author explicitly draw attention to it. Probably the most thoroughly researched book on Rasputin I've read so far and essential reading for all who are interested in how the Siberian peasant managed to become the most powerful/influential man in Russia. The book is an excellent answer to the question - what is true and what is myth.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grumpus

    Even after listening to this audiobook, it is still hard for me to draw any conclusions about Rasputin—who he was and his objectives. Was he a simple peasant, religious icon, or master manipulator? One thing for certain, he had a creepy demeanor and was a lecherous womanizer with an insatiable sexual appetite. *shudders* He would tell his female followers that one gets to know the soul through the body. Get the inference? *shudders again* I know there is the whole Romanov story and his influence Even after listening to this audiobook, it is still hard for me to draw any conclusions about Rasputin—who he was and his objectives. Was he a simple peasant, religious icon, or master manipulator? One thing for certain, he had a creepy demeanor and was a lecherous womanizer with an insatiable sexual appetite. *shudders* He would tell his female followers that one gets to know the soul through the body. Get the inference? *shudders again* I know there is the whole Romanov story and his influence over the royal family especially the tsarina Alexandra, but since I don’t do reviews and only comment about what I thought of the book and/or its impact on me, this was of lesser importance. One lucky prediction the that Alexi would not die of hemophilia was evidence enough for the tsarina that Rasputin was special. There was also rumor and innuendo that Rasputin had more than a priestly relationship with her. Given that she wore the pants in the family, it’s not that hard to grasp the royal family’s loyalty to their so called “friend” despite the tsar’s wishes. Drama and intrigue is not unusual in royal courts but this seemed 100-fold stranger. I can’t grasp how he came to such influence give his behavior. For me, it all comes back to creepy.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Julia Bass

    2/5 🌟🌟 Let's be short and sweet, shall we? This is a fantastic TOME, I wouldn't even classify it as a book. But I also wouldn't classify this as a biography? It just feels like Mythbusters: Rasputin Edition. Smith goes a looong way to debunk every single myth and assumption that surrounds the figure of Rasputin (I was shocked and sad to know that he never truly sang 'In the Dark of the Night', what a waste...), and how he was a key factor in all the changes happening in Russia. But I didn't truly f 2/5 🌟🌟 Let's be short and sweet, shall we? This is a fantastic TOME, I wouldn't even classify it as a book. But I also wouldn't classify this as a biography? It just feels like Mythbusters: Rasputin Edition. Smith goes a looong way to debunk every single myth and assumption that surrounds the figure of Rasputin (I was shocked and sad to know that he never truly sang 'In the Dark of the Night', what a waste...), and how he was a key factor in all the changes happening in Russia. But I didn't truly feel like he ever discussed Rasputin's characters? Sure, he wasn't the man of myth that people whispered about - and still do - but he STILL did some pretty strange things. That were never touched upon. I would also have liked to have seen it from a woman's perspective. I feel like a lot was excused, and even though Smith's goal was to shine a light on truth, I honestly didn't really think what I saw was good. I sometimes truly felt disgusted, and I think it would have benefited the book to have a woman investigate Rasputin's character. Maybe in another tome.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jarrod

    This is a surprisingly well-written and enjoyable read. It is expertly documented and linear. Part 1 - We learn of Rasputin's beginning in Siberia from his birth place in Pokrovskoe and eventually end up in the Capitol (St. Petersburg). We learn of the influence of Religion and the tragedy of the tsar having a hemophiliac son. He doesn't really enter into the book formally until about 50 pages in when he's calling himself a starets (religious title). By know we know about prophecy and how religio This is a surprisingly well-written and enjoyable read. It is expertly documented and linear. Part 1 - We learn of Rasputin's beginning in Siberia from his birth place in Pokrovskoe and eventually end up in the Capitol (St. Petersburg). We learn of the influence of Religion and the tragedy of the tsar having a hemophiliac son. He doesn't really enter into the book formally until about 50 pages in when he's calling himself a starets (religious title). By know we know about prophecy and how religious leaders and spiritual advisers are now able to influence Nicholas and Alexandra. Part 2 - 1905-1909: Rasputin has major influence within the kingly chambers. He's starting to rise in influence and prominence within society. There are investigations and his daily happenings seem to be getting more and more strange. Part 3 - Scandals 1910-1911. Lots of movement here and writings of inappropriate behavior. We are also brought along to see more of the day to day interactions of Rasputin with the public. There are more investigations and mischievous behaviors reported. Amongst all of this, he makes a pilgrimage to the holy land. Part 4 - We start to see much controversy here. There is rumors of miracles and a great deal of scandal. This part has likely been the most interesting so far. Rasputin is present when Alexei is "healed" for a time, but doesn't actually happen to have done anything. There is some modern day beliefs on prayer and healing injected into the story, but much ado about nothing. There is a link between faith and healing - but it's not because science can figure it out. If faith could be proven, we wouldn't need it. It is proven (by the author anyway) that Rasputin isn't and wasn't a khlyst. Then the first real attempt on Rasputin's life takes place. There are many players, almost a domestic scandal, yet in the throws of recovery, War breaks out - the next Part. Part 5 - World War I takes stage. This is the most interesting chapter so far as it has more action and conspiracies regarding Rasputin's day to day life and how his carried himself. The incident at Yar takes first place here and the author does a great job of explaining the facts and the evidence around the supposed event. There's also starting to be evidence of the power of media and propaganda. Things don't have to be true if they are repeated enough. The first lights of the downfall of the Monarchy also become evident. Nicholas' failed attempts to win the war and he weakness as a leader of the army and the nation start to take stage. You see Rasputin come to the front and "take the reigns" of the government (even if only the minds of the crazy). The last year should be interesting to say the least... Part 6 - The last year. This is easily the best chapter of the book and most interesting. The scandals, the planning and the act itself of the murder of Rasputin. The author does a great job of tying in the activities of this time period along with the downfall of the Romanovs. The attempt at cover-up was lame, but alas it seems unnecessary as no one was held to account. Even in death, however it is amazing how the empress held on to the idea of Rasputin and what he stood for as a figure. The power he held was really amazing considering how he really never "did" anything. The crazy part is the myth and legend and how it grew out of really nothing. There was mystique and intrigue around the events of the murder, but to me it's amazing how what really happened changed throughout the decades to become "He was poisoned, shot, stabbed (don't know where this one came from) and thrown in the river to die of drowning". This is what I was told in high school history. This narrative is easily debunked by the author through witnesses and first-hand sources. All anyone had to do was look and report on the actual evidence instead of looking for a story. Part 7 - Aftermath 1917-1918. This is a brief section demonstrating the investigation into the death of Rasputin. We examine the crime scene, look at any limited and relevant evidence through what eventually happened with his body. We look at the key figures in the aftermath and what became of them, including his daughters. The author also draws a direct line from Rasputin's death to the end of the Romanov's. A sordid affair to say the least. This is an amazingly written biography that will hold your interest throughout. There is a lot of sexual content as that is one of the long-lasting surviving tales revolving around Rasputin. The author does a great job of debunking several myths around Rasputin as a figure and shows how his influence and ultimate demise lead to the ending of the Russian monarchy. Well worth the read for anyone interested in history, be it Russian history or other. Rasputin comes alive on the pages and you can see his daily activities and influence in history.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hillary Shepard

    This book is less for the casual interest in Rasputin and more for the here is every single thing you could ever want to know, and why its true. It's an incredibly researched book. It must have close to 200 pages in foot notes. Its a great, very heavy and dense in parts which makes sense for the content. This period in Russian history is so interesting, and it's amazing to see this very intimate relationship between the Romanovs and Rasputin, and how - Alexandra especially - mysticism was still This book is less for the casual interest in Rasputin and more for the here is every single thing you could ever want to know, and why its true. It's an incredibly researched book. It must have close to 200 pages in foot notes. Its a great, very heavy and dense in parts which makes sense for the content. This period in Russian history is so interesting, and it's amazing to see this very intimate relationship between the Romanovs and Rasputin, and how - Alexandra especially - mysticism was still such a large part of the reign even though this is well after Einsteins Theory of Relativity, way after the civil war etc. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for something to emotionally commit to for awhile, it really looks at the darker side of human nature, politics, and how much power comes from talk, and ideas where in reality Rasputin was just a man. I would love to read it again with a flow chart, some of the names become hard to keep track of, who was related to who in what way, and how their alliances change over the years. It feels like fiction, some great epic, though of course it is not. Smith lays out the facts, gives his occasional opinion, but really divulges the facts of Rasputin, and not the huge stories that have racked up around him over the last 100 years. Read this if you have any interest in this period of Russian history, or Russian history in general !

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Meticulously researched, elegantly written biography of the infamous Rasputin, the so called "Mad Monk/Holy Devil" whose influence (or at least his perceived influence) over Nicholas II and Alexandra is often cited as one of the main causes of the the collapse of the Romanov dynasty and Russia's descent into revolution and civil war. Smith's research is exhaustive and he provides us with not only a comprehensive and detailed account of Rasputin's life, but also examines the "mythology" of Rasput Meticulously researched, elegantly written biography of the infamous Rasputin, the so called "Mad Monk/Holy Devil" whose influence (or at least his perceived influence) over Nicholas II and Alexandra is often cited as one of the main causes of the the collapse of the Romanov dynasty and Russia's descent into revolution and civil war. Smith's research is exhaustive and he provides us with not only a comprehensive and detailed account of Rasputin's life, but also examines the "mythology" of Rasputin - how it was created, by whom, and for what purpose. Consequently it is possible that a reader with a casual or passing interest in the subject matter may find the book a little tedious in places, but if you are looking for a work that thoroughly and dispassionately examines a wealth of evidence to provide a balanced, richly detailed portrait of the life and death of Rasputin and of Russia in the early twentieth century, I would highly recommend this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Nissa

    Another great book on early 20th century Russian history. It’s massive, but I couldn’t put it down.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Furger

    A biography that is thorough and well-researched while remaining readable is quite a feat, more so when its subject is surrounded by myth and rumor. I learned so much!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This book, folks, was incredible. It read more like some weird novel than a biography and good god this dude was interesting. I'll drop a review on my website, but this one is absolutely worth reading. This book, folks, was incredible. It read more like some weird novel than a biography and good god this dude was interesting. I'll drop a review on my website, but this one is absolutely worth reading.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Redfield Reads

    This was abit of a weird one to get through after an amazing start the book quicly became a chore to get through. I have always been curious about Rasputin ever since I first heard about him in school as he is a very mysterious figure in history. This book is one of closer to truth books about him due to new records being opened about Rasputin so if you want the most realistic account of Rasputins story then this is the book to read. There is alot of mixed up stories with Rasputin and alot of what This was abit of a weird one to get through after an amazing start the book quicly became a chore to get through. I have always been curious about Rasputin ever since I first heard about him in school as he is a very mysterious figure in history. This book is one of closer to truth books about him due to new records being opened about Rasputin so if you want the most realistic account of Rasputins story then this is the book to read. There is alot of mixed up stories with Rasputin and alot of what other religious figures did around that time in Russia that were questionable did get confused with Rasputins own story. So alot of the evil acts that Rasputin has been blamed for previously this book does put to rest. However Rasputin was still not a nice person and alot of the stuff he was accused of doing was evil, unfortunatley it isnt very clear if he did alot of these things or if it was just hearsay. What I did find out about Rasputin was that he did seem to be more of a cult leader than a holy man, surrounding himself with vulnerable women and taking advantage of them. From some of the accounts in this book he saw sexual contact as a way to get rid of sins. There was also alot of extreme religious movements happening in Russia at the same time as Rasputin and this book does detail what they carried out. I wasnt aware also that in this period of time Gelding still took place so it is quite a shock to what you will learn. My main problem with this book and why it took me so long to read was that the author has a very dry writing style. At times its like reading a text book or a fact sheet than actually a History book. He also writes several chapters that arent about Rasputin but the events and other groups that were around at that time and yeah they are OK to read about but I wish he would have focused more on Rasputins events that he was directly involved in. Unfortunatley due to what happened during the period that Rasputin was alive and the mixed opinion of him I dont feel we will ever know the truth about Rasputin and what actually happened. This book might be as far as we get to parts of the truth but it is such a grey area of history.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joerg Frankenberger

    there are books written with passion and then there are books written with a purpose ... 'Rasputin' is of the latter variety. 700+ pages are necessary to prove that history as reported to date was wrong and for that, humor or reader engagement are not deemed essential. how to present such relatively short and adventurous life so utterly boring and tedious is an achievement in itself ... paid for supposedly with superior research ... but (for me) utterly wasted and missing the point. there are books written with passion and then there are books written with a purpose ... 'Rasputin' is of the latter variety. 700+ pages are necessary to prove that history as reported to date was wrong and for that, humor or reader engagement are not deemed essential. how to present such relatively short and adventurous life so utterly boring and tedious is an achievement in itself ... paid for supposedly with superior research ... but (for me) utterly wasted and missing the point.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J.W.D. Nicolello

    An absolute masterpiece and one hell of a way to usher in 2017. Many notes, review here for fun or elsewhere in time.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ian Major

    Memories fade with time, but histories get sharper due to increasing access to primary source documents. This is evident in the studies of Rasputin and his times. The contemporary rumours and fake news that surrounded him and continued over the many years of the Soviet control of records has given way to the facts that emerge from the police reports and individual letters that can be cross-referenced to check their validity. This fine history by Douglas Smith sums up Rasputin's life and impact in Memories fade with time, but histories get sharper due to increasing access to primary source documents. This is evident in the studies of Rasputin and his times. The contemporary rumours and fake news that surrounded him and continued over the many years of the Soviet control of records has given way to the facts that emerge from the police reports and individual letters that can be cross-referenced to check their validity. This fine history by Douglas Smith sums up Rasputin's life and impact in the final paragraph of his Introduction: "Rasputin's story is a tragedy, and not just that of one man but of an entire nation, for in his life - with its complicated struggles about faith and morality, about pleasure and sin, about tradition and change, about duty and power, and their limits - and in his bloody, violent end, we can discern the story of Russia itself in the early twentieth century. Rasputin was neither a devil nor a saint, but this made him no less remarkable and his life no less important to the twilight of tsarist Russia." As a Christian, I can see a bit further than the secular writer concerning the power Rasputin undoubtedly had. While Smith may rightly say he was not a devil, Rasputin had all the marks of a tool of Satan. His healing and hypnotic powers, mixed with his spiritual devotion to his notion of the Orthodox God and his sexual debauchery suggest a 'holy man' that one might meet in animist societies. A shaman. And that fitted well in aristocratic society where the bored dabbled in the occult. Introduce such a figure to the Tsarina and her haemophiliac young son, and a relationship that brought down the empire was formed. My only problem with reading this was the author's tendency to move between months/years without clarifying when the event was happening. But then that happens to me at times when watching a movie! Maybe I need to listen more intently!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Claudia Putnam

    What a witch hunt. Rasputin was not a monk, not a priest. Not a simple man, either. A pilgrim who got himself tangled up with the doomed Romanovs and got blamed for their inevitable downfall. The hysteria around this man ought to make Hillary Clinton feel a whole lot better--investigation after investigation--supported by unbelievably extensive surveillance--into the claims around his misdeeds yielded NADA. Except for the stuff around sex, which Smith has a lot of trouble with, but IMO he's best What a witch hunt. Rasputin was not a monk, not a priest. Not a simple man, either. A pilgrim who got himself tangled up with the doomed Romanovs and got blamed for their inevitable downfall. The hysteria around this man ought to make Hillary Clinton feel a whole lot better--investigation after investigation--supported by unbelievably extensive surveillance--into the claims around his misdeeds yielded NADA. Except for the stuff around sex, which Smith has a lot of trouble with, but IMO he's best viewed in the context of all these gurus and other spiritual leaders who seem to be unable to keep from fucking their followers. A lot. I'm not sure what's up with that, but maybe extreme charisma and sexual addiction/mania + a collection of groupies who are also sex addicts is just an inescapable combination of traits. Not justifying, just postulating/observing. For someone who was supposedly illiterate, Rasputin's writings were rather impressive. Perhaps Smith and others edited them, but Smith doesn't come quite clean about this. This book suffers a bit from some contradiction here and there--noted in my commentary, and from a decision not to deal with the ruthlessness and disciplined-ness of the revolutionaries. If you don't reckon with Lenin I don't know how you can imply that Rasputin and the idiocy of the last Romanovs were the reason for the downfall of the monarchy. Smith is careful to say that it wasn't Rasputin himself but what he symbolized to the Russian people and the way the hysteria and delusion around him mounted. Still, the autocracy (the distinction between autocracy and monarchy, which is important, is not clarified in this book) was going down with or without Rasputin, and with or without Nicholas and Alexandra. N&A surely helped. They WERE colossal idiots. I'll come back, I think, and include more thoughts. For now I'm exposing my extensive notes and highlights. Great and much needed work on this much and wrongly maligned figure.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Murphy

    A very impressive book! Quite academic and immensely detailed, obviously thoroughly researched over a number of years. The book is very good at exploring the personality and myth surrounding Rasputin. The images and photographs are fascinating. What sometimes escapes me is the fact that this story is relatively contemporary in that Rasputin had access to modern technology such as cars and telephones. One tends to link his personal appearance and demeanour with earlier centuries and the character A very impressive book! Quite academic and immensely detailed, obviously thoroughly researched over a number of years. The book is very good at exploring the personality and myth surrounding Rasputin. The images and photographs are fascinating. What sometimes escapes me is the fact that this story is relatively contemporary in that Rasputin had access to modern technology such as cars and telephones. One tends to link his personal appearance and demeanour with earlier centuries and the characters that commonly appear in the works of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. The initial chapters regarding Rasputin's early years, his religious life and his gradual assimilation into St Petersburg society are outlined very well. His friendship and influence over Czar Nicholas and in particular Alexandra is explained clearly and that aspect surprised me in that you can better understand just how much impact his religious teaching had on them. Many examples, from letters and documents, illustrate his interference over political appointments, policy and decision making. This obviously made many enemies in royal and political circles as well as in society generally. It is fascinating to see the details of the murder explained and to see how many might think that the real villain of the story is Yusopov. Is his myth making story of how multiple methods were needed to finally kill the 'demon' really a justification for what was after all a callous cold-blooded murder? It is so interesting to read about the aftermath of Rasputin. From a historical perspective the Bolshevik Revolution and the murder of the Romanov royal family followed shortly after his death. It might have been interesting to see what major personalities of the era eg Lenin and Trotsky (who are hardly mentioned at all?) thought of of Rasputin? On an individual level it is also interesting to note the fact that his daughter Maria lived in Los Angeles and was, amongst other things, a circus performer, only dying relatively recently in 1977. The amount of detail in the book is a little off putting and the coverage of hundreds of minor players in the story is no doubt impressive, but at times confusing in trying to fit them into the overall story. However, this does not detract too much from the book. It is the story of an incredible historical figure and how he fits into the dramatic period of Russian history in the early part of the twentieth century.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    In the introduction, Smith tells us immediately that he plans to address every crazy rumor about Rasputin because Rasputin's "legend" is in many ways more important than his real life. It's a good excuse for gossip; Montefiore didn't bother with justifications like this in his (far gossipier) The Romanovs: 1613-1918. But despite laying this groundwork, Smith's book doesn't quite have the chatty appeal of Montefiore's or, say, Mitford's The Sun King. Often he's too bloodlessly devoted to strippin In the introduction, Smith tells us immediately that he plans to address every crazy rumor about Rasputin because Rasputin's "legend" is in many ways more important than his real life. It's a good excuse for gossip; Montefiore didn't bother with justifications like this in his (far gossipier) The Romanovs: 1613-1918. But despite laying this groundwork, Smith's book doesn't quite have the chatty appeal of Montefiore's or, say, Mitford's The Sun King. Often he's too bloodlessly devoted to stripping the "legend" of its mystique, and acknowledges Rasputin's naughty behavior with aggressive understatedness. For example, he admits (after extended build-up) that Rasputin cavorted with prostitutes and guzzled madeira and tried to grope married ladies-- but as he tells us this, he seems to level a come-at-me stare at his readers, daring us to question whether holy men should do things like that. (To me, it still sounded pretty gross.) He gives Rasputin credit for his opposition to war, his work for the poor, and his patriotism, and even praises his eventual decision to be slightly less anti-Semitic than some other terrible people. He tries to be the fairest biographer in the land, which makes his little judgmental moments jarring: he moves from oppressively even-handed analysis to talking about "how horrible [Rasputin] looked," his fondness for "creepy petting," how dumb Alexandra's decisions were, or how "cowardly" Rasputin's murderers behaved. Mostly, though, Smith's consuming passion lies in correcting the Rasputin historiography. He sniffs and sneers and tells us that other historians didn't read the sources correctly (or at all), that he found new information "overlooked by Rasputin's previous biographers," that multiple primary sources are obviously lying, and that some authors "regrettably repeat falsehoods." He implicitly contrasts himself (taking a hit to his academic credibility by writing about the silly sensationalist topic of Rasputin, as he laments in the intro) with the hordes of greedy exaggerators just out to sell books. Smith seems fair and credible most of the time and for all I know he's completely right, but it's just hard to believe that no one else has ever seen these things in the 100 years of fervent interest surrounding Rasputin. Is he the only biographer to ever properly read a letter? Maybe, but his use of sources would've been more persuasive if he didn't keep bragging about it. Still, I found this book interesting and provocative, and it did convince me to read other histories of the period with greater care.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ed Dougherty

    I’m only giving this 5 stars because I have finally finished it and I can begin my life again. 800 pages is a long book, but this is a LONG 800 pages. I learned a lot and the story is fascinating, and there are moments which are so hilarious I just wanna tell them to strangers on the street. But my god this goes on forever. The author has no mercy with similar Russian names. Dude— please take a step back and remind us which Dimitry you are talking about. The photos at the end of the book summed I’m only giving this 5 stars because I have finally finished it and I can begin my life again. 800 pages is a long book, but this is a LONG 800 pages. I learned a lot and the story is fascinating, and there are moments which are so hilarious I just wanna tell them to strangers on the street. But my god this goes on forever. The author has no mercy with similar Russian names. Dude— please take a step back and remind us which Dimitry you are talking about. The photos at the end of the book summed it up for me. Probably 2 dozen random generals I didn’t even remember reading about. I honestly don’t think I’ve been as excited about reading as I am now that this ordeal is over. A whole world of books await me. Bye Rasputin!!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    While I enjoyed the book, I felt the author was a bit too protective of Rasputin. It was certainly interesting to read a completely different point of view from most of history. However, he seems to brush off the evidence of Rasputin's neverending extramarital activities as unimportant, and presented him as a true believer instead of the basic hypocritical religious zealot that Rasputin clearly was, mystical or otherwise. Also not a fan of the bias against Alexandria. Perhaps the records availab While I enjoyed the book, I felt the author was a bit too protective of Rasputin. It was certainly interesting to read a completely different point of view from most of history. However, he seems to brush off the evidence of Rasputin's neverending extramarital activities as unimportant, and presented him as a true believer instead of the basic hypocritical religious zealot that Rasputin clearly was, mystical or otherwise. Also not a fan of the bias against Alexandria. Perhaps the records available of her words is larger but it seems Nicholas got off a little lightly in comparison in this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David

    A biography of Rasputin debunking the myths and giving general readers a fuller understanding of the man and his times has been sorely needed and for some time. Unfortunately, this is not that biography. Certainly, Mr. Smith does much to debunk the myths surrounding the man but in doing this fails to fully realize Rasputin or the Romanovs. The failing presents the book with a terminal blow. On top of this failure the book, at 817 pages [Kindle Edition], is vastly overwritten and stylistically ex A biography of Rasputin debunking the myths and giving general readers a fuller understanding of the man and his times has been sorely needed and for some time. Unfortunately, this is not that biography. Certainly, Mr. Smith does much to debunk the myths surrounding the man but in doing this fails to fully realize Rasputin or the Romanovs. The failing presents the book with a terminal blow. On top of this failure the book, at 817 pages [Kindle Edition], is vastly overwritten and stylistically exhausting for the general reader. Rasputin would have been a better book if it were 25% shorter...maybe even 30 or 40 percent shorter...but shorter by all means. Rating: 3 out of 5 stars Recommended for hardcore Rasputin fans with a tolerance for a lifeless Mad Monk....

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