The last tsar of Russia Nicholas II had an extraordinary life. Historians assess Nicholas II in different ways. Some go into harsh criticism and statements that the Emperor was a ‘bloody’ and weak-willed monarch, guilty of the revolutionary catastrophe and the collapse of the Russian empire. Others praise his human dignity and claim that he was an outstanding statesman and reformer.
Disclosure: post may contain affiliate links. That means if you buy something through them I’ll receive a commission, at no extra cost to you. It helps me to manage the cost of running this blog. That being said, I only recommend products and services I use and love.
Books About The Last Tsar of Russia
Here is a list of nine books that shed light on the personality of the last tsar of Russia and his family. I hope that they will help you to form your opinion on Nicholas II and his family:
- The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra. By Helen Rappaport
- The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. By Helen Rappaport
- Michael Romanov: Brother Of The Last Tsar, Diaries And Letters, 1916-1918. By Helen Azar
- 25 Chapters Of My Life: The Memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna. By Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna Romanova
- Once A Grand Duke. By Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov
- Thirteen Years at the Russian Court. By Pierre Gilliard
- Caught In The Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917. By Helen Rappaport
- Rasputin: The Last Word. By Edvard Radzinsky
- To Free The Romanovs: Royal Kinship And Betrayal In Europe 1917-1919. By Coryne Hall
What Is Included To The List Of Books About Nicholas II?
This list is not a list of nine biographies of Nicholas II written by different authors. It is a compilation of memoirs, diaries and historical research. One way or another, they all speak about Nicholas II and his family.
For instance, one of the books is memoirs by Pierre Gilliard. Pierre Gilliard was the French language tutor of five children of Nicholas II. He was very close to the imperial family. Memoirs by Gilliard give us a precious description of the everyday life of the last Russian tsar.
I have also included three books of memoirs and diaries written by close relatives of Nicholas II: his younger brother Mikhail Alexandrovich, his younger sister Olga Alexandrovna, and his uncle Alexander Mikhailovich.
Three other books are written by historians. They make us step out of imperial palaces and see the life of people. Those books will help you understand (or at least, reflect on) what was happening in Russia in 1916-1918. Was it possible to save the family of the last Russian Emperor? How was the life of the Romanovs who could escape from the Bolsheviks?
The story of the last Russian tsar would not be complete without the history of Grigory Rasputin. Historians still can not decide for sure about the role of Rasputin and his intentions.
This post is a part of the project ‘Imperial Russia’.
The project is about travelling, reading and discovering the imperial heritage of Russia.
Family Members And the Entourage of the Last Tsar of Russia
Before we begin with books, here is a short introduction so that you could understand who was who in the Romanov family and in their entourage.
Family of the last tsar of Russia: Nicholas II, his German-born spouse Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. They had five children: daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and a son Alexey (the heir of the Russian throne).
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich — Russian statesman and military leader. A childhood friend of Emperor Nicholas II. The great uncle to Nicholas II.
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna — the younger sister of Nicholas II. After the Revolution of 1918, she managed to escape from Russia. In her memoirs, she depicts the life of the Romanov family before and after the Revolution.
Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich — the younger brother of Nicholas II. For some time, he was considered the heir of the Russian throne.
Pierre Gilliard — French tutor of the children of the last tsar of Russia. He spent 13 years with the imperial family.
Grigory Rasputin — an enigmatic Russian peasant, healer and ‘saint man’ who became one of the best friends to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and her children. Many believed that Rasputin was so powerful that he could even influence the political decisions of Nicholas II.
The Romanov Sisters:
The Lost Lives Of The Daughters Of Nicholas And Alexandra
By Helen Rappaport
Though this is the book about the four daughters of Nicholas II, I would recommend starting with it. Helen Rappaport tells us the story about Grand Duchesses from their birth until their murder. However, this book is not only about then. There are many facts about the whole family: the youth of Alexandra Feodorovna and her way of life, the character of Nicholas II, the tragedy of Alexey, the private life of the imperial family, etc.
The Last Days Of The Romanovs:
Tragedy At Ekaterinburg
By Helen Rappaport
‘The Last Days of the Romanovs’ is a book about two last weeks in the life of the last Russian tsar. At that time, Nicholas II, Alexandra Feodorovna and their five children already lived imprisoned in the Ipatiev House in Ekaterinburg. Helen Rappaport paints portraits of the imperial family so thoroughly that we have the impression that we watch a movie. Though we know that the story ends with the disgusting shooting in the basement of the Ipatiev House, the book holds out interest like a thriller.
Brother Of The Last Tsar, Diaries And Letters, 1916-1918
By Helen Azar & Nicholas B. A. Nicholson
Grand Duke Mikhail (or Michael) Romanov was the younger brother of Nicholas II. The diaries take us back to 1916-1918, the final years of Mikhail Romanov. Those were crucial years for the Russian Empire: World War I, the rise of the Provisional Government in Russia, the Bolsheviks Revolution, the abdication of Nicholas II. Mikhail found himself in the middle of this furious flow of events.
When Nicholas II abdicated from the throne, he named Mikhail as the new Russian Emperor. But could Mikhail Alexandrovich become the ruler of Russia? Did he want it himself?
Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, one month before the murder of his brother Nicholas II.
25 Chapters Of My Life:
The Memoirs Of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna
By Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna, Paul Kulikovsky, Karen Roth-Nicholls, Sue Woolmans
Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna was the younger sister of Nicholas II. In her memoirs, Olga Alexandrovna depicts her childhood in Gatchina Palace: the happy hours that she spent with her beloved father Alexander III, their games and family trips, her marriage.
During the revolutionary years, Olga Alexandrovna managed to leave Russia. For some time, she lived in Denmark with her mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna. Later she moved to Canada where she lived very modestly (read — in poverty). Olga Alexandrovna had an extraordinary life. Even though she lost her fortune, her imperial title, her brothers and cousins, Olga Alexandrovna remained kind, modest, and reserved.
By the way, Olga Alexandrovna was a passionate artist. Her lovely watercolours touch with their simplicity and soulfulness.
Once A Grand Duke
By Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich Romanov
Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich of Russia was a naval officer, author, explorer, brother-in-law of Emperor Nicholas II and advisor to him.
Alexander Mikhailovich was born and spent his childhood in the city of Tiflis in the Caucasus. He grew up far from St Petersburg’s imperial and aristocratic society — and this allowed him to distinctly see who was who when he came to the Russian capital.
In his memoirs, Alexander Mikhailovich describes fascinating adventures he had during his maritime expeditions. You will also read about the other side of Nicholas II. The last Russian tsar often appears as an indecisive, unknowledgeable politician who is ready to accept whatever comes instead of struggling for his own country.
Thirteen Years At The Russian Court
By Pierre Gilliard
Pierre Gilliard was the French tutor of the children of Nicholas II: Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexey. This fearless French man went with the disgraced royal family to Siberia. In Tobolsk, he tried to brighten up the imprisonment of the last Russian tsar.
Memoirs of Pierre Gilliard are a precious testimony of the tragic period in the history of Russia. With a lot of emotions, he writes about the people who became the symbols of that era: Nicholas II, Gregory Rasputin, Anna Vyrubova and many others.
After the murder of the imperial family, Pierre Gilliard remained in Siberia for a few years and then came back to Switzerland where he published his memoirs about thirteen years that he had spent with the Imperial family.
Caught In The Revolution:
Petrograd, Russia, 1917
By Helen Rappaport
Winter days of 1917. World War I is going on. Saint Petersburg is already renamed Petrograd. Hospitals in Petrograd are flooded with soldiers, streets — with refugees. Hungry women spend hours in lines to buy some food.
Russian wealthy aristocrats keep living their luxury life as if nothing happens. They watch ballets, drink Moet and Chandon champagne, enjoy the finest delicacies, and listen to the famous Fyodor Chaliapin perform in the theatres.
‘Caught in the Revolution shows us a detailed picture of the last months of the Russian Empire. Every person from the book feels that something will happen, but no one can imagine how tragic the upcoming period will be.
The book includes multiple letters, diaries, and memoirs of the witnesses of 1917: the British Ambassador George Buchanan, the American Ambassador David Rowland Francis, the French Ambassador Maurice Paleologue, diplomats’ wives and daughters, foreign journalists, and nurses.
Rasputin: The Last Word
By Edvard Radzinsky
Grigory Rasputin was a peasant from the village of Pokrovskoye, Tobolsk province. Rasputin became famous when he (miraculously!) turned from an uneducated peasant into a friend of the family of the last Russian Emperor. In certain circles of St Petersburg society, Rasputin had a reputation of a ‘tsars’ friend’, seer and healer.
Even if you read multiple books about Rasputin, it will be quite hard for you to decide who he was. At present, numerous disputes about the personality of Rasputin and his influence on the fate of the Russian Empire are still going on.
Edvard Radzinsky is a Soviet and Russian writer, playwright, screenwriter and TV presenter. He is the author of popular television films and books on the history of Russia, which have become world bestsellers. Sometimes, he is criticized by several Russian historians. However, I do not consider Radzinsky’s books as fiction. Sometimes, he goes beyond historical facts and speaks about all ‘what ifs’ from the point of human psychology.
To Free The Romanovs:
Royal Kinship And Betrayal In Europe 1917-1919
By Coryne Hall
The last book from our selection is a story of the siblings, cousins, and relatives of Nicholas II who managed to escape from revolutionary Russia to Europe. No one thought that their escape would last long — everyone hoped to return to the previous life after a couple of turbulent years. Did the foreign relatives welcome the Romanovs-refugees in Europe? (spoiler: they did not).
‘To Free the Romanovs’ by Coryne Hall is like an echo of the memoirs of Grand Duchess Olga Alexandrovna and Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich that I mentioned above. By the way, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich understood very quickly that there was no need to wait for help from Europe: neither help for the Russian Empire which was drowning in blood nor help for the refugees (and even less — for the Romanov family).
In general, it is a sad story about rulers who place political interests above simple human compassion.
The most known of the books from the selection is the first one — ‘The Romanov Sisters” by Helen Rappaport. To my opinion, it is not only important historical research but also a well-written book that hold our attention from the beginning. You know how a historical book can be boring. With Helen Rappaport, non-fiction history overcomes all fiction novels.
What other books about Nicholas II could you recommend?