I always approach a biography or a volume of history written by a Brit with great caution.
The Brits always whine about "popularizing history," and then write the most dull, godawful books one can imagine. They seem to have a knack for terribly written history. Gibbon died a long time ago, and it has all been downhill ever since.
Added to my worry about the book was the fact that the author worked for the BBC. I cannot think of a greater qualification for disaster, slanted history, and lack of objectivity than working for the BBC. There was a time when it had a serious news department, with serious reporters. But that was long ago. What you get from the BBC today is slanted rubbish, with a strong anti-American and anti-Western bias. Like Reuters, the BBC has become a cruel parody of itself.
So with those two worries in mind, I decided to read the book about the Mahdi and Gordon.
Overall, I got a fairly pleasant surprise. The book is readable. It does not suffer from the British style of history, so you can actually read and enjoy it. A good start.
The author also tries to tell the story of the Mahdi, with a certain degree of objectivity. And the Mahdi's story needs telling. He seems to be the forerunner of what we are facing today--Islamic fanaticism, and a charismatic figure to spur it on. Bin Laden and the Mahdi share many traits--some positive, most not.
One can, with a certain degree of imagination, see the appeal of the two. They both put their money where there mouth is--and both show the power of example. I might not like the example, but you have to give them a certain degree of credit. By giving some credit, you see how they developed a following.
The author seems to have little use for Gordon, and downplays his role in the story as much as possible. He even has a hard time giving Gordon credit for not running, and facing death with the others in Khartoum. I realize its very fashionable-- in these days of Londonistan-- to look for all the good in Islam, while downplaying the West, but Gordon deserves more credit. The man had courage, and the courage of his convictions. He was certainly no more "nutty" than the Mahdi. Gordon was a flawed, but brave figure. He, too, put his life where his mouth was.
This book is worth reading if the story interests you. The story of the Mahdi needs telling. History does repeat itself. Bin Laden and the Mahdi are not the same, to be sure, but there are some stunning simililarites. Both fanatics believe, or believed their faith, and both carried it to remarkable levels. Bin Laden and the Mahdi appeal to the Islamic desire for a leader to make Islam proud, and make the infidels quake.