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Playing the “what if” game with the Romanov family

Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia

The Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wow. Image courtesy of hotblack, Morguefile.

What IS it about the Romanov family that keeps me going back to books about them?

I just finished reading Candace Fleming’s book, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperialist Russia. It’s an enjoyable read, especially for those of you who are history lovers, or in particular, Russian history lovers.

Apart from the main storyline about the Romanov family, the story of their lives, and their tragic end, Fleming inserts anecdotes from average people in different chapters. These anecdotes from Russians and non-Russians help you understand what real-world life was like for ordinary people of the time, and you see the immense contrast between average Russian citizens and the fabulously wealthy Romanovs.

I keep playing a game of “what if” with this family. What if Alexei had not been born a hemophiliac and there was no need to keep his illness a secret — would Rasputin have gained the influence that he did? What if Empress Alexandra had been less religious and more politically savvy? What if their children had been less isolated? (I give Alexandra some credit — she and the girls got training and helped wounded soldiers.) What if their relatives in other countries had helped them to escape?

What if Nicholas had received proper training in the art of statesmanship and been better able to be a tsar? Did he ever appoint any spies to seek out the truth and report it to him, as opposed to yes-men? Was it his culture, his upbringing or his character that led to his downfall and his family’s fate?

Too bad social media and PR didn’t exist then — Nicholas might have been better able to see how he was regarded and to take steps to gain popular trust. (When your own army, navy and some of your palace servants leave you, something is seriously wrong.)

Fleming’s book raises a lot of these questions for people who enjoy pondering the “what ifs?” of history. Analyzing what happened, why it did and how it could have been prevented keeps historians and history enthusiasts like me forever busy.

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