Donald Rayfield

Eminent Tsarist Statesman

Tales of Imperial Russia: The Life and Times of Sergei Witte, 1849–1915


Oxford University Press 314pp £35 order from our bookshop

Many Russian émigrés – not least Nabokov, in his memoirs – and even some non-Russian historians fancied that imperial Russia would come unscathed through war and revolution to develop into a prosperous and liberal monarchy. This fantasy was inspired by the ministers of genius who held office in the 1890s and 1900s – men like Piotr Stolypin and, above all, Sergei Witte. In their time they transformed Europeans’ view of Russia: thanks to Stolypin, Russian peasants sent butter in refrigerated wagons to London’s Home and Colonial shops; thanks to Sergei Witte, the Russian rouble was as acceptable as sterling or dollars in Italian hotels, and trains ran faster from Paris to St Petersburg than they do today. (My grandfather accordingly invested the family fortune in Russian railways, which is why his offspring have all had to work for a living.)

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,
    • Here's @epkaufm's Whiteshift, reviewed in this month's magazine by ,