Reading progress update: I've read 230 out of 349 pages.

Secret Lives of the Tsars: Three Centuries of Autocracy, Debauchery, Betrayal, Murder, and Madness from Romanov Russia - Michael Farquhar

Nicholas I (1825-1855)


  • He reversed most of Russia's modernization and reinforced autocracy while the rest of Europe was enjoying the Enlightenment. He also nearly executed Dostoevsky before Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov were written.
  • Quote: "As Dostoevsky and countless others discovered, free expression was strictly forbidden and censorship elevated to an art. Indeed, the tsar himself spent endless hours poring over books, plays, and periodicals, searching for anything that might smell of subversion. And with the emperor's brutally efficient secret police force, complemented by a vast network of informers, ordinary Russians could never escape the feeling that invisible eyes and ears were everywhere. 'They're in my soup!' one contemporary exclaimed." (p. 183)
  • To keep the people passive, Nicholas' minister of education, Sergei Uvarov worked to keep the people stupid. "If I can extend Russia's childhood another fifty years I will consider my mission accomplished." (p. 191)
  • Alexander Nikitenko, former serf working as censor, tried to secretly help literature. His summation of Nicholas' rule: "The main failing of the reign of Nicholas Pavlovich was that it was all a mistake." (p. 200)


Alexander II (1855-1881)

  • Had several assassinations attempted against him.
  • Quote: "It was while in Paris that Alexander II reportedly had his palm read by a fortune-teller who told him that seven attempts would be made on his life-and that the last one would be successful. If such a meeting did actually take place, the seer's forecast was certainly accurate. Two attempts had already been made, and there were five more to come."
  • The fourth and fifth attempts show some pretty crazy coincidences.
  • The fourth was an attempt to blow up the Tsar's train car. They hit the right car in the second train that went through, always the Imperial train which followed the retinue train. This time, there'd been a delay and the imperial train had gone first. They only managed to turn fruit into "marmalade".
  • The fifth was an explosion set to go off during dinner at the Winter Palace. "Fortuitously enough, there was a slight delay in the usual schedule that evening due to the late arrival of several guests." The explosion turned the room into a chasm and killed servants in the dinning room as well as royal guards who had quarters beneath the room. How crazy that twice delays factored into extending the Tsar's life!