“The Romanovs” Author Discusses His History of the Dynasty

British historian and author Simon Sebag Montefiore discussed his new book at the the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore on Monday.

By Anjali Dhillon

On Monday, the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore welcomed British historian and critically acclaimed author Simon Sebag Montefiore to discuss his new book, The Romanovs: 1613–1918. Alexander Herbert, a Ph.D. student in the Department of History, guided the conversation, which was attended by approximately 20 people.

In his book, Montefiore writes about 300 years of the Romanov dynasty’s history while exploring themes of power, violence, and sex. During the discussion, he drew connections between Russia’s historical affinity for state-condoned violence and the nature of Putin’s government today.

On why he chose to write The Romanovs: 1613–1918, Montefiore said, “Benjamin Disraeli always said, ‘When I want to read a book, I write it’ and so as sort of a tribute to him I really wanted to read this book, but I couldn’t find it. I wanted to find a book that weaves all this together, the whole dynasty.”

Herbert noted that this has a layout that is different from Montefiore’s previous work. His previous book on Stalin is a conventional book written in parts, while The Romanovs: 1613–1918 is divided into acts and scenes like a play. According to Herbert, the style allowed him to see the upbringing of the tsars and their individual personalities.

Regarding why he chose to present the Romanovs’ story in such a unique style, Montefiore said, “The reason why is actually very practical rather than a great statement about the Romanov dynasty, ironically. I actually did it because I wanted my readers to follow all these characters. For example, I have cast lists and I divided the book…into very small sections.”

According to Montefiore, the biggest challenge is that while he tries to write with academic rigor and academic sources, he still wants his books to remain accessible.

Montefiore then characterized this book as a study of power and the nature of autocracy. He noted that six of the 12 last tsars were murdered by their families or the court.

According to Montefiore there is a certain insecurity and paranoia that comes with such incontrovertible power, one that even Putin feels today as he builds his new National Guard. When one has total power and control and creates a society with no rules, there is no way to remove these autocrats other than conspiracy and violence.

Montefiore is a best-selling author most widely known for his work on Jerusalem, Stalin, Catherine the Great, and most recently, the Romanov dynasty. His talk was co-sponsored by the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies.