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Spying for Empire: The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947 Hardcover – April 14, 2006

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Summer 2007

“This fine contribution from Robert Johnson, while lacking the stimulating writing style of semi-popular works such as Peter Hopkir’s ‘The Great Game,’ or Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac’s ‘Tournament of Shadows,’ provides much of the archival documentation missing from these earlier works and in the process both widens the definition of intelligence and the time frame and geographical scope to present a more positive assessment of British efforts … Johnson is to be commended for providing an excellent overview of British intelligence efforts in Asia which draws on extensive archival research in Britain to update, and in many cases surpass, much earlier work.”


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Greenhill Books; 1st edition (April 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1853676705
  • ISBN-13: 978-1853676703
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,577,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By HMS Warspite TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Robert Johnson's 2006 "Spying For Empire" is an impressive exploration of "The Great Game in Central and South Asia, 1757-1947." Johnson's focus is the slow growth of British intelligence activities in defense of the British Empire in India, and their effects on the similarly slow growth of a professional British intelligence service.

Johnson is hampered by the limited, sketchy documentation available on these early intelligence activities. However, he succeeds in presenting an intriguing portrait of the struggle by British authorities to understand the threat to India posed by Russian expansion in Central Asia. This struggle was made doubly difficult by an near-complete lack of European knowledge about the terrain Northwest of India. As Johnson makes clear, much of the early British reconnaissance effort was devoted to gaining such basic information as what passes over the Hindu Kush, Pamirs, and Karakorum Mountains might be feasible invasion routes.

As Johnson also documents, British intelligence activities were hampered by lack of a trained intelligence corps. A series of more-or-less gifted amateurs, mostly military officers, led the way, assisted by a variety of Asian agents who did much of the actual gathering of information. The work was incredibly dangerous; bandits, hostile tribesmen, cranky Khans and Russian patrols took their lethal toll of the officers and agents.

Johnson's account makes for dense reading, as he covers nearly two hundred years of turbulent history in South Asia in just 250 pages. The chronological approach to the material requires the reader to cover a huge swath of geography, for example from London to Southeast Asia, in each segment of the book, without the benefit of detailed maps.
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Format: Hardcover
SPYING FOR EMPIRE: THE GREAT GAME IN CENTRAL AND SOUTH ASIA, 1757-1947 covers the struggle between Russia and Britain for influence over southern and central Asia. The British dispatched diplomats and agents to survey and map the area, discovering Russian military plans on the border of India and facing major problems as they tried to understand the nature of the Russian threat to the region. From British intelligence work to the politics of the times, SPYING FOR EMPIRE is a fine recommendation for either college-level world history collections or followers of early British history.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
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