The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world's surface for three centuries. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world's greatest empire? And how did they lose it all? This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Simon Sebag Montefiore's chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, with a global cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets. From Peter the Great, who made Russia an empire, to a fresh portrayal of Nicholas II and Alexandra and the harrowing massacre of the entire family, this book brings these monarchs--male and female, great and flawed, their families and courts--blazingly to life. Drawing on new archival research, Montefiore delivers both a universal study of power and a portrait of empire that helps define Russia today.--Adapted from dust jacket.