Simon Sebag Montefiore is an historian and novelist, and the award-winning author of Jerusalem: The Biography, Young Stalin and Catherine the Great and Potemkin. His new book The Romanovs: 1613–1918 is out now.

Nana

by Émile Zola

Nana

I read all three of these books during my teenage years, a formative time. Nana is set in the last few years of the Second French Empire and tells the story of the most famous courtesan in Paris.

I knew she was a monster—shallow, egotistical and greedy—but I was also in love with her, captivated by her beauty. And I was fascinated by Zola’s use of character to mirror external events; how power, sex, money and love all work together in society. They are themes I’ve explored in my own work. 

 

 

Hadji Murat 

by Leo Tolstoy

Haji Murat

Tolstoy’s last novel is one of the first books I read about Russia and ignited my lifelong interest in the country.

It’s an amazing adventure set in the Caucasus at war, a story of one man struggling to do the right thing for his family, yet crushed between the brutality of two fighting armies and the inevitability of betrayal.

Though written 100 years ago, one only has to look at modern Chechnya, Georgia or even Afghanistan to see how painfully pertinent the tale is today.

 

 

The Memoirs of Catherine The Great

Catherine the Great

I urge everyone to read this, surely the most honest memoir ever written. Catherine gives us an account of her life in the Russian court in the 1700s and offers amazing insight into her ambition, her duplicity, her extramarital affairs and her genius at political spin.

She’s so dynamic and charming that she manages to persuade the reader that her drunkard husband, Peter III, deserved to be killed so she could seize the throne.

She’s ruthless yet remarkable.

 

Buy the Simon Sebag Montefiore documentary, Jerusalem: The Making of a Holy City 

 

Feature image via BBC

 

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