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This high-end coffee-table book offers a comprehensive look at the lifestyles of the late-czarist rich and famous. King (The Fate of the Romanovs) includes chapters on major czarist institutions like the Russian Orthodox Church, but this is not his main interest; instead, he focuses on imperial ceremonies, palaces and the fashions of Nicholas's court, as well as sexual scandals involving members of the Romanov family. King has a vast knowledge of the subject, and those who are fascinated by the life of the royals and aristocratic intrigue will find much to delight in; for instance, his description of czarist royal jewelry and the magnificence of Russian balls, even as the regime was soon to crumble, adds to our understanding of how myopic the regime was. The photographs, both color and b&w, add to the book's appeal. King has made valuable use of memoirs from the era, but sometimes he uses them uncritically. But for those who are intrigued by the Russian high court, there is no better escort. (Mar.)
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Anyone who has read about the reign of the last czar of Russia understands that the imperial court was a place of opulence, but just how opulent it was is given almost staggering detail in this picture of the incredibly elaborate setting in which Nicholas II and his relatives existed. The House of Romanov, which included the czar's immediate and collateral family members, spared themselves nothing in terms of luxury in the declining years of the imperial regime, before the horrors of World War I brought an end to the monarchy. King marshals an amazing amount of information, and just as amazingly he presents it all in a very fluid, compelling fashion; specifically, he profiles the major members of the Romanov clan, then visits where they lived, gathers information on their possessions (such as jewelry, automobiles, and country estates), reconstructs the major pageants they performed in, and details how they spent their leisure. It's eye-opening, and even fun (now that it's all in the past), to visit this extraordinary group in its time and place. Brad Hooper
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