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The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia Paperback – March 1, 2006


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In a phrase coined by Captain Arthur Connolly of the East India Company before he was beheaded in Bokhara for spying in 1842, a "Great Game" was played between Tsarist Russia and Victorian England for supremacy in Central Asia. At stake was the security of India, key to the wealth of the British Empire. When play began early in the 19th century, the frontiers of the two imperial powers lay two thousand miles apart, across vast deserts and almost impassable mountain ranges; by the end, only 20 miles separated the two rivals.

Peter Hopkirk, a former reporter for The Times of London with wide experience of the region, tells an extraordinary story of ambition, intrigue, and military adventure. His sensational narrative moves at breakneck pace, yet even as he paints his colorful characters--tribal chieftains, generals, spies, Queen Victoria herself--he skillfully provides a clear overview of the geographical and diplomatic framework. The Great Game was Russia's version of America's "Manifest Destiny" to dominate a continent, and Hopkirk is careful to explain Russian viewpoints as fully as those of the British. The story ends with the fall of Tsarist Russia in 1917, but the demise of the Soviet Empire (hastened by a decade of bloody fighting in Afghanistan) gives it new relevance, as world peace and stability are again threatened by tensions in this volatile region of great mineral wealth and strategic significance. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Chronicles the imperial struggle for power in Central Asia between Victorian England and Czarist Russia.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 566 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; Reprint edition (March 1, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564475
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #595,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Peter Hopkirk has traveled widely in the regions where his six books are set - Central Asia, the Caucasus, China, India and Pakistan, Iran, and Eastern Turkey. He has worked as an ITN reporter, the New York correspondent of the old Daily Express, and - for twenty years - on The Times. No stranger to misadventure, he has twice been held in secret police cells and has also been hijacked by Arab terrorists. His works have been translated into fourteen languages.

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

169 of 178 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on June 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
Peter Hopkirk's book `The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia' is a great historical account and a very enjoyable book to read. It is very rare nowadays to find a book that holds your attention throughout, without finding one boring section, this is one of those books. In over 560 pages (paperback edition) Peter Hopkirk tells the amazing stories of a number of early British and Russian officers and men involved in the great imperial struggle for supremacy in Central Asia.
I found myself reading late into the morning, at times I couldn't put the book down. Most of the time I had heard of the places and people involved but a lot of this story was new to me. The narrative read like a novel, gripping but informative, never boring and full of information, breathing life into history in a way that is hard to find now-a-days.
This is a great book and I fully agree with the quote on the front cover of the book by Jan Morris "Peter Hopkirk is truly the laureate of the Great Game." If you ever wanted to learn something about this large and remote area then this is the book to start with. If you enjoy military history then this book has it, if you enjoy historical accounts of exploration then this book has it, if you just enjoy good history then this book has it all.
The story of Britain and Russia carving out their Empires in India, Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is truly fascinating and I was amazed at the brave and resourceful men who carved their name in history during this period. Most people have heard of the Khyber Pass and places like Chitral however I had never heard of the Pamirs and Karakorams mountain ranges or of the Kerman and Helmund deserts nor of some of the fierce and warlike tribes that lived in these areas.
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75 of 77 people found the following review helpful By John Thomson on September 2, 2002
Format: Paperback
The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk, is an amazing history of British and Russian imperialism clashing in the Middle East and Asia. Encompassing the time period from the late eighteenth century to the very beginning of the twentieth, the Great Game was much like an enormous game of chess, with Russia seeking to expand its borders and Britain to safeguard its interests in India. Hopkirk reveals both the national policy thoughts of the two nations and the daring moves of each's officers and agents in the regions in question, which include most of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India and the Caucasus. In many cases, the men Hopkirk describes were the first Westerners to set foot in such regions (for example, Bokhara, Khotan and Khokand).

Hopkirk has done incredible research: his bibliography is an impressive 15 pages. And even though he has a wealth of material to cover, he makes sure that the whole presentation is interesting to the reader. He tells a complete story, but expands on issues and events that are both important and interesting. As a result, the exploits of men like Conolly, Stoddart and Burnes come into clear focus against a backdrop of intrigue and, often, duplicitous ness, across a little over 500 pages.
Not unexpectedly, Hopkirk's account tends to be favor the British point of view slightly. Even so, he's quick to point out mistakes and torpedo unjustified accusations on both sides.
I found this book an easy and quick read, completing it in across about four days. While it progresses in roughly chronological sequence, it could easily be read piecemeal if the reader desired. The book kept my interest well, and didn't ever seem to wander aimlessly.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Bodhidharma on August 5, 2005
Format: Paperback
I came across the term Great Game first while reading Byron Farwell's "Armies of the Raj," and then later in Kipling's "Kim." It was in the appendix of Kim that I first read about Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game." Hopkirk's account - though biased towards the British point of view - details the events in the Great Game with a flair and style that makes it extremely interesting to read. The voyages of the soldiers and civilians involved in the Great Game, the numerous instances of treachery and cruelty which were a norm with the rulers of the Central Asian khanates of the time, the two wars in Afghanistan that were catastrophic to the British, the two failed expeditions to Khiva that did tremendous damage to the prestige of the Russians, etc., are all described with meticulous details in this wonderful book of almost 550 pages.

The term Great Game was first coined by Arthur Conolly, a captain in the British army, and is used to describe the epic standoff between Russia and Britain for the control of India and Central Asia in the nineteenth century. There were many players in this Great Game from both the sides - brave men who thought nothing of venturing into hostile territories hitherto unknown to westerners to gather valuable political and military information for their countries. Many - including Conolly - perished playing this dangerous game of intrigue and espionage. The British, wary of any move on part of the Russians that would bring them closer to India, did everything in their power to extend their influence over the Central Asian khanates of Khiva, Bokhara, Samarkand, Kashgar, and especially Afghanistan.
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