Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

Written by Douglas Smith
Review by Kate Braithwaite

By any standards, Grigory Rasputin led an extraordinary life. He was born in 1869 in a remote Siberian village; during his twenties, he began a pilgrimage seeking God. By the time he was 41, he was infamous throughout Russia. On December 17, 1916, at 47, Rasputin was murdered and his body dumped in the Neva River. But, as Douglas Smith points out in his comprehensive new biography, “what happened in the final hours of Rasputin’s life remains a subject of intense speculation a century later.”

This is a must-read for anyone with an interest in Rasputin’s life and death: rich in detail and insight, with clear and consistent identification of sources. And although the book is engagingly written, it is an intensely self-conscious work. Readers looking for Rasputin’s life story may find it a disjointed read, as Smith interrupts his own narrative flow to set his findings within the context of previous research about Rasputin. Over the whole work, this becomes a strength, as Smith peels away the myths and misconceptions about Rasputin originated by the press during his life and perpetuated by writers and historians since his death—even including a faked autopsy record produced in 1998 by a French writer. A fascinating book!