These two books, published to coincide with the centenary of the Russian Revolution, are linked by the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. This event forms the climax of Robert Service’s magnificent account of the Tsar’s last years and is just one of the atrocities to appear in Victor Sebestyen’s ‘Intimate Portrait’ of Lenin. But the only things that victim and murderer had in common were an inability to distinguish the trivial from the important and a conviction that they incarnated some non-human power: the Tsar believed that he had been anointed by God; Lenin regarded the Russian Revolution as the consequence of a Hegelian historical process.
Service’s account of the Tsar’s last eighteen months is more detailed and better researched and narrated than any previous account. (The murder of the Tsar is remarkably well documented, because a week after it was committed White Army soldiers captured Yekaterinburg, where the Romanovs had been detained, and