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Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar Paperback – November 14, 2006

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; Reprint edition (November 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743284267
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743284264
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #531,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's difficult to reform Russia, as popular historian Radzinsky shows in this lively examination of the czar best known for emancipating the serfs in 1861. Viewed as the most liberal of Russia's 19th-century czars, Alexander II (1818–1881) came to power in 1856 with the idea of bringing Russia into the modern age. But as Radzinsky (The Last Tsar) shows, his liberal reforms brought him nothing but trouble. Alexander came under attack from the right for being too liberal, and the left for not going far enough. He also had to curtail his reforms when faced with the need to fight foreign enemies. Radzinsky focuses much of the latter half of the book on the rise of left-wing populist movements—the book covers in depth the intellectual currents that swirled around Russia during Alexander's reign. Some frustrated leftists eventually turned to violence. After many failed attempts to assassinate Alexander, they eventually succeeded in 1881. Some readers may think Radzinsky provides too much familial background before launching into the czar's life, but his well-translated, readable prose will win over most readers interested in European history, and those looking for a cautionary tale on what Russia could face in the future. (Oct. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Radzinsky tells Alexander's story with great flair, breathless pacing, and the novelist's eye for the telling detail and the revealing anecdote. Alexander II is a great read, vividly portraying the tsar and his splendorous court, and offering evocative sketches of the age's great writers, artists, and intellectuals who made his reign one of such rich cultural effervescence."

-- The Seattle Times

"Lively and brilliant, both epic and epigrammatic."

-- The New York Times Book Review

"This is [Radzinsky's] best so far: Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar is dramatic, entertaining, and authoritative. Mr. Radzinsky is as comfortable in the palaces of the Romanovs as he is in the conspiratorial attics of their assassins or the studies of great writers like Dostoevsky.... Mr. Radzinsky skillfully tells the story of the czar, of course, but also of the terrorists who begin to hunt him ruthlessly in ever more ambitious plots."

-- The Wall Street Journal

"An engagingly flamboyant, intimate portrait of the tsar who ruled the enormous empire at the pinnacle of its culture and splendor....[Radzinsky is] informative, witty, and unfailingly entertaining."

-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"A compelling account of one of Russia's most important figures, as well as a portrait of a critical, formative period in Russian history."

-- The Washington Post

Customer Reviews

And Radzinsky is also that rare historian who is also a great storyteller.
Robert P. Patrick Jr.
An entertaining and informative read, highly recommended for anyone with an interest in Russian history.
Shawn P. Rife
Alexander II was responsible for one of the longest periods of reform Tsarist Russia ever experienced.
John D. Cofield

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In Alexander II, as in his earlier biographies of Nicholas II, Rasputin, and Stalin, Edvard Radzinsky has written a biography of a Russian which only a Russian could write. His story of Alexander II's life and reign and its impact on Russia is filled with omens, fatalistic musings and asides, and wry commentaries on present day Russian life. At first this can be somewhat distracting if you are used to a more straightforward approach to biography, but as you read on you begin to grasp the rhythm and appreciate the literary style.

Alexander II was responsible for one of the longest periods of reform Tsarist Russia ever experienced. The 1860s and 1870s were a period of ferment and rapid change, as serfdom came to an end, censorship was relaxed, and Russians began to have wider contacts with the industrialized West. At the same time terrorism increased dramatically as many Russians demanded more change than the Tsar was willing to permit. Radzinsky does a good job of detailing the Tsar's vacillations as he made one move towards liberalism, then took two steps back towards reaction, then sidled back towards reform. Students of Russian history will recognize this as the same character flaw that doomed Alexander II's grandson Nicholas II. They will also realize that Radzinsky is also drawing parallels between the perestroika/glasnost period of 1985-1991 in the former Soviet Union and Alexander's 19th century reforms. (I was interested to see the word "glasnost" used by some of the Tsar's reformers.)

Radzinsky also covers the "Russian Renaissance", as Alexander II's early reign was known, with good descriptions of the careers of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, among many others.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By F. Chloupek on January 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Radzinsky paints a compelling portrait of Alexander II, who he terms as Russia's Last Great Tsar, and, implicitly, the last figure with a chance to prevent the Russian Revolution to come.

Radzinsky deals with Alexander's formative years, as the tsarevich under the conservative Nicholas I. Russia in its final years seemed to be the epitome as thesis begets antithesis as reformists tsars were followed by conservative ones.

One of Alexander's first actions after being crowned was to free the Russian serfs. Unfortunately, in what was to become a theme of his reign, he attempted to chart a middle course, and the serfs were "freed" but not given full control over the land that they owned, he started political liberalization, than drew back from it.

Unwilling to either crack down on rebellion fully, or eliminate the conservative elements, Russia began to build up steam internally as the anarchists began to organize. The Liberalizing element, seeing little hope from the regime, was faced with either accomadting to the current path or to go into violent plotting against the regime.

After Alexander's first round of reforms, he shifted into idle. It is at the point that Radzinsky deviates from his following of the tsar, and dives into the story of the plotters and revolutionaries that would ultimately commit regicide. This deviation may seem like a distraction, but it shows the complete inertia of St. Petersburg as to what was actually going on in the country.

As he entered his late 50's Alexander prepared a second round of reforms, including a constitution. However, at this point the radicals were gaining strength and preparing their plots. The reforms would be aborted by the tsar's death before they could be put in place.

Alexander III, would prove to be the conservative opposite of his father and hold down the boiling pot that was Russia until it finally erupted under Nicholas II.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Reader from Washington, DC VINE VOICE on November 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been an avid consumer of Russian history books since I was a small child. (My father taught Russian history). I had always admired Emperor Alexander II, who freed the peasants from centuries-old enslavement, and tried to steer Russia on a moderate course. I had always wondered why this handsome, kindly, romantic and very able ruler never got a good modern biography like Russia's other two great rulers, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great.

Edvard Radzinsky's book definitely meets the need for a readable, dramatic account of Alexander II's life. It reads like a historical novel, filled with drama and intrigue.

But it is the true story of a hero who was eventually murdered -- just as he was preparing Russsia's first constitution -- and who may have been betrayed to his death through an odd alliance between his opponents on the extreme left and the extreme right, neither of whom wanted Alexander to create a moderate, constitutional government.

I had not known that Alexander's court also feared that he would replace the heir to the throne -- his very conservative, reactionary oldest son, Grand Duke Alexander, with his much younger half-brother, Gregory, Alexander's son by a mistress that he had recently married.

It is a valuable cautionary tale for anyone seeking to create major societal change -- or anyone seeking an absorbing, eventful story as fascinating as any of the novels of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky that were written during Alexander's reign.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Shawn P. Rife on March 3, 2006
Format: Hardcover
...also a very interesting examination of Russian history in the 19th century. Radzinky's purpose is less concerned with making the reader intimately familiar with Alexander as a "person" (although all the biographical essentials are here) as it is to demonstrate Alexander's place in Russian history. Here we see the son of one of Russia's most repressive tsars launching an era of great reforms. Nodding to inevitabilities that many around him couldn't see, Alexander was Russia's first author of "glasnost" and "perestroika" but like Mikhail Gorbachev a century later, he underestimated the energy of forces he released and overestimated his ability to continue to control and influence events. Consequently, he became the enemy of both Russia's impatient, overeducated, and arrogant youth-who quickly resorted to ruthless terrorism to hasten the end of autocracy-as well as the "retrogrades" who longed for a return to the peaceful dictatorship of Nicholas I. History books talk a lot about the socialist revolutionaries. Yet it may be through the complicity of the retrogrades that Alexander II was assassinated. (The retrogrades were further alienated by Alexander's open cavorting with his beloved mistress--it wasn't that Tsars weren't supposed to have affairs, it's just they were expected to be more discrete about it; after the death of Empress Maria Alexandrovna, Alexander could not wait to secretly wed his mistress despite public mourning, a scandal that many members of the court would not forgive. At the end of his life, Alexander was preparing to make his new wife empress and possibly even preparing to name a new heir from among their children!)

As Radzinsky writes: "Getting rid of unsuitable tsars was a tradition that went back to the palace coups of the guards.
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