June 5, 2017

Book Review: The Romanovs: The Final Chapter by Robert K. Massie

The Romanovs: The Final Chapter

by Robert K. Massie

Genre: History, Nonfiction, Biography
Publisher: Random House
Page Count: 320 pages
Published: October 1, 1996
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Note: This book is not intended to be a full biography of the Romanov family. Rather, it focuses on their deaths and what happened to their remains and their legacy.

My Goodreads Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"In July 1991, nine skeletons were exhumed from a shallow mass grave near Ekaterinburg, Siberia, a few miles from the infamous cellar room where the last tsar and his family had been murdered seventy-three years before. But were these the bones of the Romanovs? And if these were their remains, where were the bones of the two younger Romanovs supposedly murdered with the rest of the family? Was Anna Anderson, celebrated for more than sixty years in newspapers, books, and film, really Grand Duchess Anastasia? The Romanovs provides the answers, describing in suspenseful detail the dramatic efforts to discover the truth. Pulitzer Prize winner Robert K. Massie presents a colorful panorama of contemporary characters, illuminating the major scientific dispute between Russian experts and a team of Americans, whose findings, along with those of DNA scientists from Russia, America, and Great Britain, all contributed to solving one of the great mysteries of the twentieth century."


"In Russia everything is a secret, but there is no secrecy."


My Review:

The account of what happened to the bodies of the Romanovs after they were brutally murdered during the Russian Revolution. The first third is really fascinating. I honestly didn't know much about the Romanovs when I began this book. In my mind, I compared them to lavish royalty along the lines of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who met similar ends during social uprising. I quickly learned of the Romanovs' brutal murders and more about the Russian Revolution than I'd picked up here and there from movies like Dr. Zhivago (I have some room for improvement, I know).

Essentially, the family was forced into their basement by intruders and shot with round after round as they struggled to get away. Massie's account really kicks off from there: what happened to their remains? He follows multiple theories--that one or more got away, that they were killed later after being transported to their eventual burial ground in a forest, etc.--and reports on DNA and scientific findings to pinpoint their actual burial place and identify their remains.

This was all quite interesting, but from there the last two-thirds of the book weakened as the narrative focused on scientific bickering about how to best analyze corpses, massive egos in these related fields, and imposters all trying to steal a piece of the Romanov dynasty. To me, this could have been covered in a chapter and instead covered hundreds of pages. It is undeniably curious how people continue to pose as the remaining, missing, distant relations of the Romanovs in an attempt to cling to their royal ancestry, but to me this is more pathetic and sad than entertaining.

If you like this, try:

The Witches: Salem, 1692; Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens; The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious Dynasty; Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital; Into the Wild; Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America; Irena's Children; Shakespeare: The Biography; The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks; Valiant Ambition


  1. I loved this book, but I also loved the scientific dithering on DNA and blah blah blah. It's so fascinating that the Romanov remains were found (or, the finding was announced) at just about the same time that DNA testing became possible, subsequent books about DNA and genetics all mention the Romanov family as one of the first public cases for DNA testing.

    Hashtag: I'm a Nerd. :)


    1. It was pretty cool that the timing worked out so well with those findings. I see the reasons for arguing about scientific methods, but it did feel like egos were getting in the way and it become a turf war. That said, this book definitely whet my appetite to learn more about the Romanovs so when I'm ready for more I'll be sure to refer to your Goodreads recommendations! :)