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

Douglas Smith, the author of Former People: The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy, has written what may be the definitive account of Grigory Rasputin's life and times. He questions every element of the mythos, even countering accusations of Rasputin's criminal background as a horse thief through "a series of documents that have languished unnoticed... until now." That becomes something of a refrain in the biography, as Smith not only reinterprets the work of his predecessors but provides a wealth of new information.

Beginning with Rasputin's obscure transition from a Siberian peasant to a pilgrim wandering among Russian Orthodox holy sites, Smith explains how Rasputin developed his religious outlook: "[he] took in all that the Russian religious world had to offer but kept only that which suited him, fashioning in the process his own version of peasant Orthodoxy." Far from uncovering banal reality behind Rasputin's supposed mystical talents, Smith instead explains how the man's forceful personality came to have such an impact on intelligent, learned people such as the Tsar and Tsarina.

The Rasputin that emerges in Smith's portrait is strikingly different from the one that dominates the popular imagination. The spiritual leader's ascendancy frightened some important Russians who began an enormously influential campaign against him. That campaign was so successful that Smith's book reads like a revelatory work of revisionist history, unearthing a flesh-and-blood person from a century's worth of lies and exaggerations. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

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