"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Riddle of Rasputin

I've read my share of books and articles about Rasputin over the years, and confess that I am no further ahead in understanding much of the man and the events he shaped. If nothing else, his life is a useful illustration and reminder of how often history functions as a cipher, and how unreliable it can be save for its reliably contradictory claims ostensibly about the same person and events. Those who think that "eyewitnesses" to people and events in history are always to be trusted have not read their Elizabeth Loftus closely or often enough.

This article gives a good foretaste of a new book by Douglas Smith, Rasputin: Faith, Power and the Twilight of the Romanovs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), 848pp.

About this book the publisher tells us:
On the centenary of the death of Rasputin comes a definitive biography that will dramatically change our understanding of this fascinating figure
A hundred years after his murder, Rasputin continues to excite the popular imagination as the personification of evil. Numerous biographies, novels, and films recount his mysterious rise to power as Nicholas and Alexandra's confidant and the guardian of the sickly heir to the Russian throne. His debauchery and sinister political influence are the stuff of legend, and the downfall of the Romanov dynasty was laid at his feet.
But as the prizewinning historian Douglas Smith shows, the true story of Rasputin's life and death has remained shrouded in myth. A major new work that combines probing scholarship and powerful storytelling, Rasputin separates fact from fiction to reveal the real life of one of history's most alluring figures. Drawing on a wealth of forgotten documents from archives in seven countries, Smith presents Rasputin in all his complexity--man of God, voice of peace, loyal subject, adulterer, drunkard. Rasputin is not just a definitive biography of an extraordinary and legendary man but a fascinating portrait of the twilight of imperial Russia as it lurched toward catastrophe.

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