Having been brought up in Russia, like Sarah Palin … well, Alaska was Russia once, until Secretary of State William Seward bought it in 1867 in a move known as 'Seward's Folly' … and I once had the 'pleasure' of meeting Sarah Palin when she was Mayor of Wasilla as she texted and then lounged on her sunbed, in a move known as 'McKenna Hewtson's Folly,' but I am digressing already …
Anyway, I have always loved Russian history and been fascinated by the Romanovs, and tried to read everything about them. They were so off the reservation. Michael Romanov was elected Tsar because he was a simpleton, if not completely insane, and they went precipitously down hill from there, with the periodic reprieves at the hands of Catherine the Great, Alexander I, Nicholas I and Alexander II: That's it, three hundred years of Romanovs and four decent tsars, with Alexander III making it to the 'prizes for everyone' category of 'not too bad,' if you're not Jewish, that is. If you're Jewish, Alexander III kick-started a new wave of pogroms that Tsar Nicholas II could only continue with unbounded enthusiasm.
Anyway again, I have always wanted to write about the life and times of Tsarina Alexandra, Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt, wife of Nicholas II, as it struck me that Nicholas and Alexandra together were responsible for the untimely deaths – directly and indirectly – of some one hundred million people across the world, which must qualify them for a genuine lifetime achievement award, not just a 'turn up and we will give you one' statuette. Actually, they got one of those too when they were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, less for dying for their faith – which the Church could find no evidence of – and more for suffering in silence, which would make every Russian who has ever lived a saint to be recognized by the Orthodox Russian Church, if you ask me.
Anyway, again again, Mirander Carter's tale of first and second cousins George V of Britain, Nicholas II of all the Russias, and Wilhelm II of Germany only serves to remind me of the capriciousness of history, and not just of Russian history this time, but of world history. How was it that quite so many idiots could make it to top jobs all at the same time, would-be school shooters on a universal scale – vain, arrogant, ignorant, opinionated, and with almost limitless fire power at their disposal in their basements?
We tend to think of King George V as being the smartest of the bunch – and certainly as being the most successful – but that is because he was the only one of the three who was a constitutional monarch, so there was a limit to the damage he could do. While Nicholas II could ignore the genius strategist Count Witte, and Wilhelm II could dismiss the equally accomplished Count von Bismark, George V had to put up with David Lloyd George, and vice-versa.
As early as 1895, Kaiser Wilhelm thought Tsar Nicholas would bring everyone's world tumbling down. Nicholas and George thought Wilhelm a militaristic buffoon, and George's main preoccupation was with shooting as many thousands of birds as he could, until this interest morphed into his armies shooting as many thousands of people as they could, German, British or otherwise. The principle of royal heredity has a lot to answer for.
In a 425 page book, Miranda Carter chronicles the relentless charge of inanity, insanity and vanity that was the daily life of all three of these monarchs of the most powerful European countries of their time, and she makes me proud to be American, America being the fourth great power in the world then. During the same period our leaders were Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (I'll skip lightly over William Taft). It is a book that makes you shake your head inconsolably on every page and may conceivably provoke a major head injury by the end of the book, but that Health & Safety warning aside, it creates the filter through which we should probably view all imperialism at the turn of the twentieth century, and that filter sure ain't rose-colored.