T.M.’s Book Review: The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk

© 2006 Peter Hopkirk
Published by The Folio Society 2010
510 pages with map of the area on the inside covers.
Available in paperback and eBook from Internet booksellers.
There are color photos and illustrations, a lengthy bibliography, and a comprehensive index in my copy.
Recommended for high school students and older.

If you want to know the back story of the present situation in Afghanistan, you need to read The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia. First published in 1990, it is still available thanks to paperback and eBook editions. First edition hardback copies are available from used booksellers at decent prices. It is the story of the competition between Russia and Great Britain for Central Asia and Afghanistan. The author takes us back to the Mongol hordes coming out of the east on their fast ponies and conquest as their goal. He concisely relates the struggles to push them back and the efforts to fulfill the Russian appetite for more territory. The British resist the Russian Bear in an attempt to preserve the Raj in India.

The political and military intrigues of both British and Russian characters are vividly told in their attempts to expand their respective empires. Just like today’s headlines, there are corrupt politicians, Muslim jihadists killing any infidel within reach, conservative governments willing to defend themselves, and liberal governments working hard to appease all comers. Readers of this book will have to frequently remind themselves they are reading a history, not today’s newspaper.

The story is easy to read thanks to the authors’ chronological style of writing. This also makes the book difficult to sit down. We learn of the customs, clothing, military tactics, and beliefs of the local inhabitants caught between two imperialistic empires. There are precise descriptions of local political intrigues between chieftains and those who would be king. The vivid descriptions of the geography put you into the action.

The story flows until the advent of World War I finally forces the two adversaries to become allies against the Central Powers. They meet to settle the boundaries of a country not theirs, and all is well until the next Russian invasion of 1979. That is another story.

Note: The author of this book mentions that many of the books he consulted during his writing are either in specialist libraries, or only available at great expense. This is a good warning to you if you are interested in building a library concerning your favorite subject or subjects no matter what they may be. I began my quest in 1979 and some of the books I have purchased over the years are no longer available at any price. My advice is to purchase books you are interested in as quickly as possible. Publishers have short shelf lives for most books, and the price usually goes up when the book goes out of print.

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