• Title: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42
  • Author: William Dalrymple
  • Released: 2013-04-16
  • Language: English
  • Pages: 560
  • ISBN: 0307958280
  • ISBN13: 978-0307958280
  • ASIN: 0307958280
From *Starred Review* The British humiliation in the so-called First Anglo-Afghan War (1839–42) has long been viewed by historians as a classic example of imperial overreach. Still, it is a saga that makes for marvelous storytelling, filled with heroes, knaves, incompetent fools, and savage, bloodthirsty warriors. It has been told often before but perhaps never so well as by Dalrymple, a historian and travel writer. He places British intervention within the context of the “Great Game” rivalry with the Russian Empire over influence in central Asia. When the British favorite in Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, was driven into exile, British officials in India feared enhanced Russian influence there and decided to reinstall him at the point of a gun. What followed was a mixture of farce, tragedy, and horror. The British army occupying Kabul was surrounded by a hostile and harrying population. When forced to retreat back to India through unforgiving terrain, thousands of soldiers and camp followers died from cold, hunger, or constant attacks by merciless mounted Afghans. Dalrymple doesn’t shrink from drawing the obvious parallel with the current American intervention. That may, or may not, be facile, but this is an absorbing and beautifully written account of a doomed effort to control an apparently uncontrollable population. --Jay Freeman

From Bookforum By turns epic, thrilling, suspenseful, and utterly appalling, at once deeply researched and beautifully paced,Return Of A King should win every prize for which it's eligible. Yet William Dalrymple has done more than just write a brilliant work of history; in these page he also holds up a distant mirror to the West's more recent, and comparably disastrous, military incursions in Afghanistan. His book describes, among much else, the opening moves of the Great Game—the intelligence battle between colonizing powers for idealogical and territorial supremacy in central Asia. It is, in some ways, a conflict that continues even now. As Kipling's youthful spy hero of Kim says, "When everyone is dead, the Great Game is finished. Not before." It is difficult to do justice to the evenhandedness, vivid writing, and extensive scholarship supporting every detail of Return Of A King. —Michael Dirda --This text refers to an alternate edition.

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