Whether currently sitting in Satan’s VIP lounge or (as the schismatic Russian True Orthodox Church believes) with God’s saints, Grigory (‘Grishka’) Rasputin’s ghost will rejoice to have the centenary of his murder marked by eight hundred pages of painstakingly researched, objective, accurate and at times even sympathetic biography. For this superb and authoritative work, Douglas Smith has mined mountains of information, the output of the entire Russian press during Rasputin’s last years, the reports of up to five thousand agents sent by the government and Church to protect or to incriminate Rasputin, as well as every extant memoir. He has done so with considerable scepticism, discounting many sensational and scandalous reports of this self-made monk’s wild behaviour and magical powers.
What emerges is that the Rasputin people imagined was far more influential than the real man. He broke into history for ten fatal years when he inveigled himself into Tsar Nicholas II’s court and won over the credulous Tsarina Alexandra by alleviating