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The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (Kodansha Globe) Paperback – May 15, 1994
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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
From Publishers Weekly
Chronicles the imperial struggle for power in Central Asia between Victorian England and Czarist Russia.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The book is told from the British side in a relatively neutral tone, although the Russians tended to be duplicitous, denying everything like any good schoolboy does while being, in fact, guilty as charged; but there is also an instance of chivalry when Colonel Yanov, in true bourgeois style, is all apologies for deporting Younghusband from (alleged) Russian territory. To be fair to the Russians, the various rulers of the central Asian states were probably even more devious and untrustworthy.
It doesn't matter whether the story is told from the British or Russian side because it remains a fascinating tale of derring-do under frequently difficult circumstances. The British Empire seemed to have no end of highly talented officers who were quite happy to head off on missions from which there was a good chance they would not return.
Although the body of the book remains unchanged from its original year of publication (1990), there is a new foreword from 2006, which looks back to the failed Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the Anglo-American assault on the country in 2001. The Great Game, it seems, isn't over.
This said, it is surely one of the best books I've ever read -- and I'm not British. The narrative is very, very addictive. Spionage missions, sieges, full-scale invasions, fierce protection of strongholds and forts, crossing of snow-covered mountains or endless deserts... all the ingredients of a good historic fiction book, written in such hair-raising, simple style, that one has to make an effort to remember that all this is not a fiction! (Some viewers have found the opposite, but I simply cannot understand why.)
As for the maps, the small number of them contained in the book is enough. "Enough" does not mean that half a dozed other maps, with a detailed terrain around key regions, would not be welcome (the region of Chitral, for example). They would, but one can easily follow the main events without them.
If you want a book without these biases and with an account from central asian Muslim nations perspective, I would not recommend this one. Myself, I will certainly read other books on this subject to fill in this gap. But if you want a book on the Great Game with such a vivid narrative that you cannot help sometimes being on the verge of a heart attack, go ahead and read it.