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Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan [Kindle Edition]

William Dalrymple
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (164 customer reviews)

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Product Description


This sorry saga has been recounted many times, but never that I can recall as well as by Dalrymple. He is a master story-teller, whose special gift lies in the use of indigenous sources, so often neglected by imperial chroniclers (Max Hastings Sunday Times)

Enchantingly written ... In Dalrymple's usual happy style of historical narrative, applied to a fascinating, neat and highly suggestive series of events, this long and involved book will be a great success, and bring the famous story to a large new audience (Philip Hensher Spectator)

Of the books swooped into being by his scholarship (to which he himself has applied the adjective "obsessive"), this one is the most magnificent ... His account is so perceptive and so warmly humane that one is never tempted to break away ... This book would be compulsive reading even if it were not a uniquely valuable history, which it is, because Dalrymple has uncovered sources never used before (Diana Athill Guardian)

Book Description

A towering history of the first Afghan War by bestselling historian William Dalrymple

Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize, 2013

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More About the Author

William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. City of Djinns won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award and the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award. The Age of Kali won the French Prix D'Astrolabe and White Mughals won the Wolfson Prize for History 2003 and the Scottish Book of the Year Prize. The Last Mughal was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. His most recent book, Nine Lives, was published in 2009 to huge acclaim. He lives with his wife and three children on a farm outside Dehli.

(Photo credit: Karoki Lewis)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
110 of 114 people found the following review helpful
By Nelson
The ghosts of the present haunt this book about the past. William Dalrymple is far too an intelligent and subtle a writer to make too many overt references to the currennt War in Aghanistan but The Return of A King cannot help but resonate in light of our recent invasion of Afghanistan.

The book is grand in scope, encompassing court life, the Great Game and military history. Dalrymple's thumbnail biographies and marshalling of his material (which balances pace with detail) are excellent. Unlike most accounts of the retreat from Afghanistan the author gives due weight to the stories of Shah Shuja and Dost Mohammed. It seems that the author has uncovered some new sources to do so too.

Although I'm a fan of reading books on kindle, I would recommend you buy print copy of this book. The plates are superb and numerous.

A tremendous book. If just half a dozen History books come along this year which are the equal of this we'll be fortunate.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What we forgot 10 Mar 2013
By David
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you start at the end, you will see how William Dalrymple assembled a prodigious mass of documentation (listed in the bulky bibliography that follows) including not only English (-language — for many of the protagonists were Scots or Irish) printed and manuscript sources, but a plethora of hitherto neglected Persian (-language — Farsi was the language of the Kabul court) documents culled from Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

If you start at the beginning, you will see this drama contains a formidable dramatis personæ ranging from Lord Auckland and Shah Shujah to Lady Sale’s cat. Their actions and interactions are recounted in a masterly and authoritative style.

It is not, in some senses, a satisfactory drama; as in proper tragedies, the characters have flaws; they have also remarkable qualities, and the cross-cultural communication in a colonial situation, though marred by many misunderstandings, does reveal substantial skills in the British — ranging from a good knowledge of Persian (Farsi/Dari), an interest in archaeology and history, and a genuine ability to know and appreciate the new cultures they encountered …

The first Afghan war was based on a mistaken belief that British (actually, East India Company) interests in India were about to be undermined by a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, so it was determined to replace the acting ruler Dost Mohammed by deposed Shah Shujah. The Shah’s very legitimate claim to power was, for his countrymen, undermined by his association with unbelievers, and the British underestimated both their and his unpopularity, and failed to support him.

So it was that the British deserted him in his hour of need, and were thoroughly routed in an ignominious retreat.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars superb 11 May 2013
By paul
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
My book of the year so far, superbly-written history with lots of new information (it baffles me how other reviewers can say there is nothing new here, when Dalrymple has tracked down a number of important but previously unexamined primary sources). The story is given equally from both sides, a welcome change from some previous histories. The level of balance is admirable. A fabulous amount of information is given in a fast-paced narrative, I enjoyed it enormously. There is some confusion about some of the dates - for example, we are told in several places that Shah Shuja was born in 1786, but he is described as being both a "sexagenarian" and "in his late 50s" in 1838. But that's a minor quibble, this is a remarkable and superb retelling of this ill-fated expedition. Given the huge number of similarities to Russia's experiences in Afghanistan the 1980s and the UN's currently, I think Dalrymple is remarkably restrained in his use of analogies.

Incidentally, I think the review of this book in "History Today" is perhaps one of the worst, most biased and deliberately misleading I have ever read.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good read 3 Mar 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am not a reader of academic history books. I ordered this because of good reviews and a general interest in Afghanistan. When 576 pages of hardback arrived with dramatis personae, notes, bibliography, glossary and index, I though I had maybe bitten off more than I could chew. Not at all. It reads well and I found it difficult to put down.
One eye opener for me was to find out how literate 19th century Afghanistan was. Dalrymple looks to sources on both sides of the conflict. So often accounts of British colonization are based on British documents with an occasional dash of oral history from the other side. In this book, we learn just how our forebears appeared to those they attempted to colonize.
In this account, two cultures comprehensively misunderstand one another leading to tragic consequences. There are a lot of lessons in it for today. We assume that other cultures have the same goals and attitudes because they share our technologies and trade with us or, if they don't, it's because of a lack of development. The Afghans mistakenly believed that the adventurers and civil servant they dealt with were princes whose word could be trusted and who could deliver on promises of support. The British saw the Afghans as a mix of gentlemen and brigands only to discover that the gentlemen were in no sense gentle and that the brigands were not outcasts from society but a proud people living a traditional way of life with a strong sense of honour and fair play.
My only quibble with this book is that I would like better maps. I frequently turned to the three small maps provided to help understand the text only to find the places were not on the map.
I recommend this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very easy-to-read, enjoyable and scholarly narrative of a complex ...
Very easy-to-read, enjoyable and scholarly narrative of a complex subject. Illuminating on the deficiencies of the politicised Raj and the intricacies of Afghan loyalties. Read more
Published 21 hours ago by Raymond
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Educational in showing up the incompetence of the East India Company generals.
Published 1 day ago by Richard S.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Superb history. A lesson to be learned by all who would try to settle this troubled country.
Published 2 days ago by PL Purnell
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly recommended. Beautifully written from rich sources of...
Marvellous book, sets context beautifully for modern times in Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria. No one comes out of the period covered by the book well. Read more
Published 9 days ago by L Baker
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
Hard read
Published 1 month ago by W J TURNER
4.0 out of 5 stars One for soldiers, battlefield or armchair.
Dalrymple is the master of his craft and those who have read his output thus far will want to have this under their belt. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sophocles
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant book!
Published 1 month ago by convencia
4.0 out of 5 stars A good interesting read for people wanting to understand the politics...
A good interesting read for people wanting to understand the politics and history of Central asia.
Good follow up from Kiplings 'Kim' and Hopkirks 'the Great Game'.
Published 2 months ago by Clive Lewis
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
received with thanks
Published 2 months ago by Graham Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical thriller
A fabulous story, thoroughly documented but also exciting to read - I could hardly put it down.
Published 2 months ago by Christine
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