Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion and the Fall of Imperial Russia

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Book Information

Random House Schwartz and Wade July 2014
Social Studies Curriculum

“Short,  with a neatly trimmed beard and large, soft blue eyes, Nicholashardly looked  like the imposing ruler of Russia.  And yet this unassuming manreigned  over 130 million subjects and one-sixth of the planet’s landsurface--an area so  vast that as night fell along the western edge of histerritory, day was already  breaking on the eastern border.  His realm stretchedfrom Poland to Japan  and from the Arctic Ocean to the borders of Turkey, theHimalayas, and China.  

The richest monarch in the world, his family wealthwas once estimated at  $45 billion (in today’s U.S. currency).  Every yearhe drew an income of 24  million gold rubles ($240 million today) from thestate treasury, which derived  most of its income  from taxes and fees leviedon the tsar’s subjects.  And if he needed more,  he simply appropriated it.He owned thirty palaces; estates in Finland,  Poland, and the Crimea (allpart of Russia at the time); millions of acres of  farmland; gold and silvermines, as well as oil and timber reserves; an endless  collection ofpriceless paintings and sculptures; and five yachts, two private  trains, andcountless horses, carriages, and cars.  His vaults overflowed  with a fortune injewels.”

Meanwhile,  outside of the palaces:“Often  there was little to eat but dark bread.  It was a staple of theirdiet, and  peasant housewives tried to stretch the loaves by mixing clay,ground straw, or  birch bark into the flour.”In  an extraordinary narrative written for middle school and high schoolreaders,  Candace Fleming has brought to life the life of the last royalfamily in Russia.  Spanning the years 1881 to 1918, THE FAMILY ROMANOV providesan intimate  and detailed account of the life of Tsar Nicholas II, his wife,Empress  Alexandra, and their five children.

Interspersed  with the primary narrative about the Romanov family arechapters that reveal the  growing discontent in Russia which arose in the wake ofmigration to the cities.  That evolution led to an increase in educatedurban workers.  From  the workers’ strikes of 1905, up through 1917 when Leninseized power, we see a  growing demand for change.  There was a broadeninghope that the government  would respond to the desires of average people fora better life.  (A  chapter near the end of the book briefly lays out thestark realities of what  became of life in Russia after the Romanovs, duringthe years of Lenin and  Stalin.)These  two sides of the story are further enlightened through the inclusionof excerpts  from first-person accounts of some who lived back in theRomanov  years.“While  all this was happening, Nicholas’s train was carrying him back toStavka.  As he chugged eastward, he blithely wrote to his wife, ‘I will missmy  half-hourly game of cards every evening, but vow to take up dominoesagain in my  spare time.’”THE  FAMILY ROMANOV reveals so well how a monarch like Tsar Nicholas IIwas,  underneath, just a run-of-the-mill person.  His only extraordinarycharacteristic was being born the first male offspring of a current or futuremonarch, entitling him, in due course, to become Tsar.  Indeed, if there isanything else to be said about Nicholas II being in some way extraordinary,it  would be that he was extraordinarily clueless.  He was clueless as to the horrible conditions under which most people lived; clueless about theineptitude  of the appointees to which he entrusted the WWI effort; cluelessabout his wife  running his government into the ground with the help of acharlatan named  Rasputin; and clueless about the revolution that came crashingin on him like a  tidal wave.

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

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

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

For  instance, the book shows the workers and peasants organizing andfighting to  wrest away some of the influence of the wealthy.  I can't help butbe  reminded of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have reinforced thepower  of wealthy people to bolster their own interests at the expense ofthe rest of  us.We  also see how a rapid rise in urban literacy rates in Russia a centuryago  coincided with the rapid growth of discontent and the movement towardrevolution.  Some of us may see this as relevant when considering today’sright-wing attacks on public education and educational standards.

978-0-375-86782-8   Ages  12 and up  304 pages

Recommended by:  Richie  Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

See more of Richie's  Picks_ http://richiespicks.pbworks.com_([email protected]

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