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Anyone picking up this book is likely to have read some of the other literature on the Romanovs or the Russian Revolution, notably the Robert Massie biography, Nicholas and Alexandra and the follow up volume, The Romanovs: the Final Chapter. This is an altogether bleaker narrative -- if you can imagine such a thing -- that revolves around the day-to-day lives of the Romanovs, their captors and, at a distance, Lenin, George V and others who helped determine their fate.

The format is straightforward: Rappaport uses each of the last 14 days of the lives of the former Tsar and his family (the unpopular Empress Alexandra, their hemophiliac son, Alexey, and four daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia) as the focus of a chapter. In each chapter, she explores the state of the debate about the Tsar's future or the issues that were likely to affect that -- such as the relentless advance of Czech 'White' troops in the direction of the city of Ekaterinburg where the Romanov family now lived in almost complete isolation from the outside world. The result is a relentless "tick tock" account of how hope slipped away, of how the family lived side by side with guards who were making meticulous preparations for their deaths, of the petty indignities they suffered and the petty squabbles in which they still indulged.

It's a chilling book to read, and it culminates in a horrifying account of the massacre of the family and four of their servants in a basement room that I -- despite being familiar with the story, an avid history reader and veteran of many thrillers -- couldn't complete in one sitting. Within minutes, Rappaport tells us, some of the executioners and other guards were weeping at the bloodbath; some of the firing squad (a very loose term in the circumstances) were replaced at the last moment because they refused to shoot the young girls (in their teens to early 20s).

This unusual structure to the book not only allows Rappaport to heighten the tension to an extent that is unusual among non-fiction historical accounts of events now more than 90 years distant, but enables her to fill in details of what was happening elsewhere as, in Ekaterinburg, the former Tsar recorded in his diary the arrival of the new guards who were to become his executioners, or as the Grand Duchesses helped two temporary maids scrub their floors a day or so before their execution. While the Tsar was confined to a sweltering room, reading history books behind whitewashed windows nailed shut to prevent him from seeing even a glimpse of sky, his cousin, George V of England, celebrated his silver wedding anniversary and attended a baseball game organized by the US military. Contrasts like that just heighten the claustrophobic world that the Romanov family now inhabited, and signaled the kind of detachment from the rest of the world that normally is displayed only by those diagnosed with a terminal illness.

It's in the research and structure of this book that Rappaport's skills truly shine. The writing is good, but not great; of a more pedestrian nature than the book's other strengths would lead the reader to expect, and it occasionally relapses into too-fervid prose (as when she compares Alexandra to a female Iago). The only point when the writing actually hampers the book, however, is when she diverges for too long from the core narrative -- the narrow world of the Romanovs and how they arrived in it -- and spends that time to fill us in on the political jostling and arguments between different factions of the new Revolutionary government. Yes, they are important to understanding why the order was given for the murders -- but they could have been dealt with more elegantly and expeditiously.

Overall, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in the Romanovs in particular, and the final stages of Tsarist rule and the first days of the revolution, more generally. It works best as the kind of deeply personal narrative that the larger-than-life characters that the family became following their deaths has made it hard to write. (How many works of fiction are there devoted to the idea of the survival or one or more of the children? How many icons of the family's images now exist and they are revered as martyrs by devout members of the Russian Orthodox community?) In this book, we get a glimpse of reality; a balding emperor with bad teeth and a nicotine habit, frustrated by his inability to resort to exercise to keep his emotions under firm control; an empress addicted to morphine and other drugs, confined to a wheelchair and at once arrogant and fatalistic; four young women caught between their passionate love for their close-knit family and a desire to see the world, hair cropped short to battle head lice; the heir to the throne now mortally ill and unable to walk even a few steps.

For anyone who hasn't also read it, The Flight of the Romanovs: A Family Saga would be an excellent book to read in conjunction with this one -- in a less personal and immediate way, it chronicles the fate of other family members, both in 1918 and the years that followed, including the Tsar's surviving siblings and his mother. The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II I recall as being one of the first post-Soviet books to emerge from Russian research into the Tsar, and being a very compelling (albeit slightly idiosyncratic) work.

One warning to Kindle readers: while this book, as delivered on Kindle, includes a blow by blow description of many photos in the hardcover edition, the photos themselves are not included in the Kindle e-book -- disappointing. The Kindle edition, oddly, does include a complete index, but with page numbers, which is of little help when using a Kindle.
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Since my high school years, I have been enthralled with the story of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov and their tragic story. Every year or so, I need a Romanov-fix, and Helen Rappaport provided just that with her new book, The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. There is much to like in this book, but also, a few detractions.

There are hundreds and hundreds of books on the last tsar and his family. Many of them just rehash the same information, over and over again. Rappaport tries to give a more in-depth look at the last 14 days that the Romanovs were in captivity in Ekaterinburg. She gives just enough background for those who may not know the entire story. Some of her descriptions and observations are first-rate. In describing Nicholas, "how had this devout, insistently dull and dogmatic little man, whose primary interest was family life, come to be demonised as the repository of all that was corrupt, reactionary and despotic about the Romanov dynasty?" When the family was descending into the basement of the Ipatiev House on that July evening, she writes "Twenty-three steps--one for every year of Nicholas's disastrous reign--now led him and his family to their collective fate." I especially liked learning more about the city of Ekaterinburg, as well as Woodrow Wilson's dilemma about aiding Russia. Rappaport's research in this respect is well done.

But what bothered me about The Last Days of the Romanovs is that there are no endnotes. There were so many times that I would read a new fact--something I had never heard before. My first instinct was to see where it came from so that I could learn more. The author gives her reasons for not including endnotes in her "Notes on Sources", but I don't agree with them. I'm not sure about the accuracy of the Index. I went to find Boris Yeltsin (she spells it Eltsin) and couldn't find him anywhere. Yet, he is mentioned on page 219. Finally, there are some minor mistakes throughout this book. One example involves Nicholas and Alexandra arriving in Ekaterburg, "It was Passion Week and the bells--the beautiful bells that had so beguiled Anton Checkov--were ringing out across the city." Three weeks later, the rest of their children joined them. "But the closely interdependent family unit was once more reunited and what greater joy could there be than for it to be during Passion Week--the most sacred festival in the Orthodox calendar." Passion Week is Passion Week. It is not three weeks long.

I enjoyed The Last Days of the Romanovs and I will add it to my extensive collection of Romanov books (now numbering over 100). But I thought Rappaport could have made this a better book.
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on October 5, 2009
With every turn of the calendar, I see the release of yet another book on the last monarch of Russia, Tsar Nicholas II, and his family, hit the bookstores. And nearly all of them have something 'new' to say on the execution of the family, and their servants, on a warm summer night in July 1918, in the city of Ekaterinburg.

This time, the focus is on the doomed family's final days of life, with each day being chronicled by a chapter in Helen Rappaport's The Last Days of the Romanovs: Tragedy at Ekaterinburg. It's a nice twist, but rather crammed, as the author, a historian specializing in Russian history, explores each member of the family in turn. Of course, there is Nicholas, the father, and once ruler of the largest empire the world had seen. By the opening chapter, he had abdicated from the throne as unrest swept Russia from the terrible results of entering the first World War. Suffering from effects of stress and confinement, the only thing that seems to be holding him together is his family and the endless smoking of cigarettes. Alexandra, his German-born, but English-trained and speaking wife, is next, herself suffering from the effects of poor overall health and constant fretting over her youngest child. Rappaport makes much of Alexandra's mental state and possibility of menopause, and conveniently forgets how devastating physical ailments alone can make a person -- Alexandra suffered since a teenager from the results of sciatica.

The daughters, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, are as most writers do, lumped into a single mass. While it is a given that the four daughters thought of themselves as a group -- they would sign notes and make presents as 'OTMA' -- they were very much individualists as well. While the author does give several tantalizing hints of who they were as people, there's not too much that's new here either. And finally, among the family, there is Alexey, the youngest and only son, who was the pivot around whom everyone in the family turned. His inherited illness of hemophilia keeps him weak and bedridden, but it also brought a great deal of insight. But he was also spoiled and indulged by his doting family, and it was the fear that death would suddenly strike that caused his domineering mother to fall under the spell of Rasputin which helped to accelerate the downfall of the monarchy.

Together with the last of their servants, the family struggles to fill time, and watch helplessly as their possessions, rations, and dignity are chipped away. The commandant of their final home in Ekaterinburg -- the sinisterly named "House of Special Purpose" -- Yurovsky is on a mission of his own, to follow the orders of the local Soviet and wait for instructions from Moscow as to what is to be done with the family. In the meantime, rumours are flying as to where the Tsar and his family are, and even if they are still alive. In the meantime, White Army forces -- those opposed to Soviet rule in Russia -- are closing in on the city, and with them, the possibility of rescue for the Romanovs...

While Ms. Rappaport goes over a trail that has been well combed before by many authors, she is still able to put in a surprise or two. One of them was a Russian woman by the name of Maria Bochkareva, who had, amazingly, become an officer in an all-woman's brigade of soldiers during the war, and now had gone to America to implore for American intervention in Russia in the form of troops and armaments. Her encounters with President Woodrow Wilson are interesting to read, but there's little to go on either. The author explores conspiracies to rescue the family, the travails of living in a dark, closed up house, and makes a few mistakes along the way, especially towards the end of the book.

And as nearly all writers on the Romanovs indulge in, there are the murders themselves, here dwelt on in loving, gory detail. At times I found myself getting physically nauseated by the author's descriptions, and that, coupled with her tendency to try and figure out the psychological states of her subjects. One that found very annoying was that Maria, the third daughter of the family, was being shunned because she had gotten too friendly with one of the guards, and had been caught being physically intimate with him. 'Proof' of this was given in that unlike her siblings and mother, she was not wearing a corset that had been sewn with jewels between the stays on the night of the execution -- hence Maria would have been cut down quickly in the hail of bullets and bayonets. The fact is, Maria was with her parents in Ekaterinburg when they had been separated from the rest of the family for a brief time, and so, her sisters had not been able to stitch the priceless jewelry into her clothing when their mother had sent them the message to do so. Worst still, Rappaport has the jewels being hidden in camisoles, rather than the corsets. It's tiny mistake, but a telling one, as there is a great deal of difference between the two sorts of garments.

Sadly, the best part of the book is at the end, where there is a brief discussion on the discovery of the Romanov remains at the end of the twentieth century, and the more recent discovery of the graves of the two missing Romanov children -- this only occurring in 2007, with DNA results still outstanding as of this writing -- and the modern 'industry' that the discoveries have brought to the city of Ekaterinburg in much needed tourist dollars. It's interesting, but other writers have done far better with the same material, and in a much more sympathetic style.

While I can not fault the author for her research -- she cites an immense number of books and articles in her bibliography -- I didn't much care for her alternate style of treating them as near imbelic idiots or whingers. Even the most neurotic of them all, Alexandra, deserves better than what she gets in this story.

As a curiosity to those who find the Romanovs a fascinating subject -- I confess that I am one of them -- this might be worth an evening's read, but overall, it still doesn't match up to early works about the novels. Even Robert Alexander's novel <a href="[...]>The Kitchen Boy</a> is better than this, and the book that started the modern interest about the Romanovs in the West, Robert Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra, and the follow-up The Romanovs: The Final Chapter are still the best place to start.

This has two inserts of black and white photographs, an extensive bibliography and index, but nothing really new is being presented here. It feels more that this is another historian cashing in on the Romanovs, and without little connection to the subject. That's too bad, and in all honesty I can only give this a three star rating.

Somewhat recommended, but not with enthusiasm.
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VINE VOICEon February 19, 2009
Fascination with the murder of the Romanov family in July 1918 shows no
sign of waning. This new book takes a micro approach, focusing in on the last
13 days of the family's claustrophobic, tense life in Yekaterinburg.

Rappaport fills out her story with vivid detail and superb characterization,
building the tension and drama to its brutal climax, sparing no stomach-turning
details. She draws us in so well, that we very nearly smell the dusty drapes
and taste the sweat hanging thick in the air of that tragic Siberian summer. We
can't stop reading, wondering what will happen next, even though we know full
well what happens next.

Meticulously researched and intimately drawn, this is a must read for
anyone interested in the sad fate of the Romanovs, or for anyone interested in
plumbing the depths of human depravity, witnessing the nobility of calm resignation,
or reliving the tragedy that foretold the executions of hundreds of
thousands of innocents in the decades to come.

Review as published in Russian Life
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Helen Rappaport has found a new and intriguing way to examine a subject which has now been exhaustively covered from many angles: the final imprisonment and assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. Inquiries into the deaths of the Romanovs began just weeks after they occurred and have continued, with varying degrees of scholarly rigor, ever since. Rappaport's contribution ranks as one of the most thorough and also most interesting.

Rappaport chose to structure her book as a day to day coverage of the last two weeks of the life of the Imperial Family in Ekaterinburg. Each chapter covers the sad, monotonous details of the imprisoned family's routine, branching out to discuss the Bolsheviks' deliberations over their fate, the activities of various royal relatives and other conspirators who hoped to rescue the family, and the daily lives of the ordinary inhabitants of Ekaterinburg who were coping with excesses of the new revolutionary regime. Fascinating psychological and medical studies of the Tsar, the Empress, and their children are provided, helping us to see them as real human beings, not just symbols. The final chapters which cover the assassinations and burials of the family are unavoidably graphic and gruesome.

Rappaport provides an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. Its unfortunate that she did not use footnotes, as there is much fascinating information here that might be difficult to trace to its original source. But that's the only flaw I see to this fine work, which allows its readers to feel deep pity for a man who was a poor tsar but a loving husband and father; a troubled woman whose love for her husband, children and country helped doom them all; and four pleasant young girls and their sickly brother whose only crime was being born royal in the wrong country at the wrong time.

I've been a devotee of Russian history and of the last Romanovs since first reading Robert K. Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra at the age of 13 nearly forty years ago. Rappaport's book provides new details on the last days of the Imperial Family and those who contributed to their fate, and deserves a place beside other serious, authoritative works on the subject.
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on May 4, 2009
As a royal historian and author, I was in awe of Rappaport's groundbreaking examination of the tragic last days of the Romanovs. Having read almost every mainstream account of the Romanovs since Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra," I can honestly say that Rappaport breaths new life into this timeless tale. She has taken a sequence of events, told and retold countless times, and introduces new and compelling information that forces you to keep reading. You cannot put it down. Her writing style is so vivid and descriptive, you find yourself intimately drawn into the world of the early days of the Russian Revolution. You cannot help but both hate and pity the revolutionaries, and feel the most overwhelming pathos for the imperial family. Helen Rappaport has written a monumental work of narrative fiction with fresh insights and new perspectives like has never been done before.
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on February 28, 2009
This incredible book provides tremendous detail and insight not only into the last days of the Romanov family, but also into the lives of the men chosen to carry out the duty of killing them; the night of the actual murders can only be described as horrific. So little is known about the four Grand Duchesses and Tsarevich Alexei (or Alexey, as Ms. Rappaport spells it), and this book does them a great service in describing them. It is indeed tragic that none of the children were spared the horror of execution. One of the most intriguing parts of the book involves the role of the British government, particularly King George V, in this sad chapter of history. I thought this was the best book on the Romanovs since Robert Massie's "Nicholas and Alexandra". It is absolutely marvelous and a must-read for any Romanov fan.
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on July 29, 2009
I bought this book because I had very little knowledge about the Romanovs or Russian history in general. So, umlike a number of other readers and reviewers, I did not compare Helen Rappaport's book with, I am told, many other publications about the Romanovs. I read Last Days of the Romanovs without being confused with any past efforts or any questions of, "Why this Book". The "Why" for me was pretty pedestrian:the book looked interesting and it was offered at Amazon at a fair price.

I was not disappointed and have rated the book accordingly. Through very substantial research and site visitation Ms. Rappaport has produced a highly readable, exciting and thoroughly infomative book about the last days of the Romanovs. Last Days spends the appropriate amount of time developing the political and human side of circumstances surrounding the period. Each of the family members as well as the key principals at the murder scene were developed during the first 180 pages; this brought the reader to a very sympathetic state with regard to each of the family members. A significant amount was also written about the Russian, German and other European political situations in order to allow the reader to understand the geopolitics and various motives that brought about the murder of the royal family. Additionally, Ms. Rappaport's careful explanation concerning the family ties of European royalty was helpful in order to understand the current family dynamics in play.

All of the above moves the reader to the the early morning dark hours of 17 July 1918. The last 50 pages of the book are written boldly; the iodine smell of blood and the stink of fear, vodka, violence and madness leap off the pages. There can be no disappointment for the want of detail developed from eye witnesses. The Tsar, Tsaritsa, four teenage & early 20's daughters, and the teenage hemophiliac son as well as the family doctor are violently murdered in a fit of chaos by gunshot and bayonet.

This is a well written book with a number of brilliant literary flourishes. The heart pounding scenes are written heroically.
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on January 18, 2010
I looked forward to reading this book on the Romanovs, expecting that it might shed new light on those last days in Ekaterinburg. Unfortunately, this was not the book I had hoped for.

First, the prose is workmanlike at best and not terribly compelling. But what bothered me more than that was the lack of notes and the writer's continual insertion of biased comments which I doubted could be proved. There were many details in here that were so astounding (Nicholas smoked henbane? An extremely toxic plant? Really?) I immediately wanted to know where she'd found this information, but of course, there were no notes, so I had no idea what sort of source these things came from. Then there were the small things that couldn't possibly be known, but showed bias: that Nicholas's gaze was often empty and dull, that Alexandra suffered from hysteria (a dubious premise indeed, given the fact that Freud's definition of hysteria has been discredited, and while it is possible the author simply wanted to draw attention to some other contemporary events--ie. Freud--this is not at all clear from the way in which it is presented). We are also told that both Nicholas and Alexandra took a number of narcotics, which is interesting, but without any sort of notes, I begin to wonder what to believe. Another small example of bias: Nicholas is said to been unable to use his favorite drugs, so then resorted to the strongest narcotic of all: prayer. The writer's dismissal of the Romanov's religious beliefs is a bit grating, and shows more of the author's personal beliefs than it does shed light on the family.

True, these are all small things, but so many of them, so early on, made me mistrust the author, and thus mistrust the book overall. Which is a pity, as it could have been a much better book.
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VINE VOICEon August 8, 2009
This book is a fascinating combination of true-crime reporting and historical biography, made possible by some pretty impressive research work. For obvious reasons, the Soviet state did its best to hide the truth about what really happened to the imperial family, where, and when. They did so not only by destroying the evidence, but by actively promoting disinformation, false or mistaken "eyewitnesses," and even taking advantage of the claims of "Anna Anderson," all of which still bedevil attempts to get to the bottom of these events.

Much of the virtue of this book is described in the Note on Sources at the end, where Helen Rappaport describes her use of Soviet and Russian sources, many of which have not only never been available in the West, but in fact have seldom attracted notice beyond Ekaterinburg/Sverdlovsk. Although I admit to not being up to speed on all the literature on this topic, it's hard to believe there could be as complete or as thorough an investigation of the murder of the Romanovs, making use of these resources, available in English. That makes this essential reading for anyone with an interest in the Russian dynasty, in the red revolution, or in the dynamics of early Soviet government.

Though the Romanov family's final days, and ultimate slaughter, are of course the focus of this book, the book also contains well-done biographical portraits of the Tsar, Tsaritsa, the four grand duchesses, and the Tsarevich Alexey that remind us the family's destruction was not only a political act but a crime against individuals (the family plus their retainers, eleven souls in total). That all makes for a book that is notable, not only for its research, but also for its storytelling. I definitely recommend it.
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