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It's easy now to indulge in nostalgia about the era of the Romanovs, and the sheer lushness of this gorgeous book is enough to encourage the indulgence. Even the text, highly readable and informative, is a little rose-tinted in places, but perhaps the authors can hardly be blamed when the gentlemanly cruelties of the old regime look so innocent next to the quintessentially totalitarian 20th-century hell that replaced them. (Nowhere was the true nature of the new "people's" dispensation revealed more vividly than in the lurid, incompetent savagery with which Nicholas II and his family were dispatched, a story reconstructed in considerable detail here.) In any case, despite a touch of sentimentality, this is a fine short history of how the Romanov dynasty ended, artfully disguised as a coffee-table book. If you merely flip through the pictures (Ekaterinburg, Tsarkoe Selo, the Cathedral of Peter and Paul at St. Petersburg, shining like a gold dagger in the snow), you will ache to travel to Russia. If you read the text, you will learn a surprising amount about the world of an almost comically ineffectual man with whom the Fates amused themselves by placing him at a key turning point in modern history. Heartless autocrat that he was, you may even end up feeling sorry for him: the cure was so much worse than the disease. --Richard Farr [via]