end of tsarist russia book coverReviewed by Nikhil Sharma

The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I and Revolution by Dominic Lieven is a serious, dense, and sometimes overwhelming look into Tsarist Russia on the threshold of World War I. Lieven’s first chapter, “A World of Empires”, is a sweeping account of the world from 100-years ago: the Ulster crisis in Britain, the industrialization of economies, the Boer politics in South Africa, the core-states of Prussia and Piedmont in Germany and Italy respectively, the after-effects of the Congress of Vienna of 1814-15, the nationalism in the Balkans, and the rise of Japanese power. As the centenary celebrations of the First World War reverberate around the publishing and television world, countless books and tele-series have been launched to make sure we never forget how it all started. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand may have been the trigger point, but Europe was simmering in a pan of blinded passions already.

The second chapter, “The Russian Empire”, delves into the reasons of why the Romanovs were destined to fall and how their decline gave way and was affected by the Communists. The author does engage in lot of what-if military scenarios and how they would have changed the course of history. The writing style is unmistakably of a historian, presenting facts after facts with analysis and counter what-ifs. Somebody who is not fascinated by history should not read this book due to scholarly treatment of even the minute politics of the Duma, Ukraine, the Slav-identity, the failure of the Romanovs to account for the feelings of the people of the empire, and the multi-dimensional conflicts between Britain’s empire around the world. The origins of the present crisis in Ukraine are lucidly explained, and so are many unheard of players: Sazanov, Witte, Struve, etc.

Lieven reconsiders the commonly-held notion that Russia got dragged into World War I only because of the fiasco in Balkans, and stresses that the Russian Empire itself was falling apart left-and-right and hence it was not dragged into it but was at the center-stage of the four year long armed conflict. The author has critically analyzed the weaknesses of Russian Empire compared to, say, the Prussian state and given commendable insights into what was and how it happened. This is definitely one of the must-read books about Russian history.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Nikhil Sharma is a technology professional who has discovered a new found interest in literature, predominantly non-fiction history, over the last few years. He lives in Mumbai.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Viking. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.