I happened to catch an interview with Simon Sebag Montefiore about his latest book The Romanovs on Simon Mayo's BBC 2 Drivetime show a couple of weeks ago. Now usually I would be hesitant to attend a historical talk about 300-years of Russian history, but he was so erudite and enthusiastic about it, I just had to hear more.
So tonight I went along knowing slightly more about the Romanovs than I had prior to that particular Drivetime show. Previous to that, my knowledge of the Russian dynasty was based around the animated movie Anastasia from the late 1990s, so it's safe to say I was an empty vessel for Mr Montefiore's knowledge to fill.
Despite being troubled by the infamous Oxford commuter traffic and therefore arriving at Waterstones slightly late, Simon was just as articulate about his subject as he had been on the radio, if not more so. He answered his interviewer's astute questions with an infectious enthusiasm, and occasionally a pinch of humour, detailing the sprawling subject of his huge tome from the beginnings of the dynasty right through to the rather (very, in fact) gory end. Ever since seeing Anastasia I've had a vague interest in the mystery surrounding the fate of Russian Tsar and his family, but never enough to actually read up on it. But hearing Simon talk about the political and personal relationships of the royal (and sometimes not so royal) subjects of this book has piqued my interest a lot more. It sounds like a blockbuster movie – sex, violence, murder, power, politics, secrecy and, obviously, dwarves; a Jilly Cooper romp without the horses.
Judging from his talk last night, it seems he has created a very readable, dare I say it "fun" account of what in less talented hands could become a dry, academic textbook. There are not, apparently, many books that cover the whole history of the Romanov dynasty, so I would imagine this is a pretty comprehensive and entertaining place to start.