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The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia [Paperback]

Peter Hopkirk
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Mar 2006

For nearly a century the two most powerful nations on earth, Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia, fought a secret war in the lonely passes and deserts of Central Asia. Those engaged in this shadowy struggle called it 'The Great Game', a phrase immortalized by Kipling. When play first began the two rival empires lay nearly 2,000 miles apart. By the end, some Russian outposts were within 20 miles of India. This classic book tells the story of the Great Game through the exploits of the young officers, both British and Russian, who risked their lives playing it. Disguised as holy men or native horse-traders, they mapped secret passes, gathered intelligence and sought the allegiance of powerful khans. Some never returned. The violent repercussions of the Great Game are still convulsing Central Asia today.

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The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia + Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia + On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire
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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; Reprint edition (27 Mar 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564475
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


'Brilliant' (Patrick Leigh Fermor, Daily Telegraph)

'There can be few more fascinating subjects, or few authors better qualified to write about it' (Fitzroy Maclean, Independent)

'Immensely readable and magisterially detached. A gripping and impressive narrative of adventure and war' (Financial Times)

'Hopkirk's brilliant and engrossing account remains the classic text on how to handle the various and often dangerous people who inhabit the region, fill of tips and warnings for the Game's current players.' (BBC History Magazine)

'Fans of political history and adventure are in for a treat as publishing house John Murray reissues its Peter Hopkirk series' (Siân Gibson, Geographical Magazine)

Book Description

'Peter Hopkirk is truly the Laureate of the Great Game' Jan Morris

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You could smell them coming, it was said, even before you heard the thunder of their hooves. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent - how history should be 11 Jan 2002
By A Customer
An excellent book. I first came across it a few years ago, and since then I've read a large amount on central Asia - including most of Hopkirk's books on the subject.
The history of the Great Game itself is extraordinary. A mix of low cunning with unbelievable naivete, astounding stupidity with phenomenal intelligence, great luck with unexpected disasters, courage with cowardice...It is a Boy's Own story come to life, and Hopkirk effortlessly conveys this.
Although sometimes a little carried away by events, generally Hopkirk has written an extremely readable, highly informative work. I've recommended it to many friends. Even for those with no particular interest in the region, it is a fine exercise in power politics and the development of empires.
Although this is Hopkirk's best work, I can also recommend his accounts of the impact of the Great War and the intrigues against the Bolsheviks.
And I left my last copy on the bus, so it's time to get a new copy...
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story - A Great Read 30 Dec 2001
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.
After reading this book I yearn for more information about this region and I intend to buy the rest of Peter Hopkirk's books. I would rate this book one of the better ones I have read this year...
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Important Lessons for Today 25 Dec 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a brilliant success on two levels. At the most basic level, it is a thrilling tale of high adventure. Whatever one's view of imperialism, one cannot deny the courage of men like Pottinger, Moorcroft, Conolly, Abbott, and Burnes - and their equally courageous Russian counterparts like Muraviev and Rafailov - who did not hesitate to travel thousands of miles across lands about which they knew nothing except that they contained vast deserts, towering mountains, ferocious bandits, and local rulers who had good reason to be suspicious of them. Hopkirk's fair minded account pays due tribute to the explorer-spies on both sides, and explains both the mutual misunderstandings and the very real reasons each had to be wary of the other's intentions. At the same time, but at a much more elevated level, he provides a timely critique of Western meddling in Central Asia. He advances no agenda - he simply reports the facts, but they speak for themselves. It is a safe bet that no member of the British Cabinet which initiated the recent Helmand Province Campaign has read this book. Had they done so, history need not have repeated itself, foreseeable problems could have been avoided, and some fine people would still be alive. Indeed, it would be enough if they had considered only a single sentence, about another Afghan campaign that turned into a predictable disaster almost two hundred years ago, and the opinion of a man who knew something of both soldiering and the region: "The Duke of Wellington for one was strongly against it, warning that where the military successes ended the political difficulties would begin."
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars When will we ever learn 17 Dec 2010
A very absorbing and informative read; well researched and relatively well choreographed in terms of the sequence of events. This book reflects the history and, to some degree, the futility of Britains presence in Afghanistan - fighting wars we were never going to win. Whilst it lauds and applauds the Great Game and illustrates the greed and duplicity if 19th century super-powers in their quests for territorial gain and pecuniary advantage, it also illustrates the insurmountable differences in cultures, values and religions. Born out of Englands' fears that they would lose their prize and Russias covetousness to gain it!
In many ways this book is a collection of true "boy's own" stories and reflects the daring, the courage and the bravery of some of our 19th century heroes,with more than a hint of Kiplings' genius as a story teller as a backdrop; at the same time showing the crass aristocratic attitudes of the appointed military and civil heirarchy with their arrogant and unfaltering sense of superiority due mainly to inbreeding and elitist education. They made a lot of mistakes and cost a lot of people their lives in the name of imperialism, but at least they were protecting something of value and benefit to their country.
My biggest criticism is that the maps were too small and too detailed for their size and would have been put to better use included within the chapters to which they referred.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This is a classic book about central Asia. An absolute page turner.
Published 3 days ago by Marek Filipiak
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Stuff
A wonderful look at the clash of empires in one of those parts of the world less well-covered by historians. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Craig Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read. If you want to make sense of ...
A fantastic read. If you want to make sense of events that are shaping our world today, this book will fill you in on why.
Published 10 days ago by quinninho
5.0 out of 5 stars let's play!
If ever there was a truly interesting 'niche' topic, it would be the British-Russian struggle over who was to be boss in Central Asia. Read more
Published 11 days ago by M. Baerends
5.0 out of 5 stars Very readable account of the so called Great Game. In reality a...
Very readable account of the so called Great Game. In reality a history of colonial power grabbing between two very aggressive nations. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alan Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Worth a read
Published 2 months ago by Jeffrey Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
I've never been any good at history but this is a very easy read - and its pretty good at helping me understand the troubles going on over there right now!!
Published 3 months ago by PDS2012
5.0 out of 5 stars great read
stories of great adventure in one of the least frequented parts of the world. map in hand an absolute must. Read more
Published 4 months ago by M. Dankovsky
4.0 out of 5 stars Boys own adventure stories
I was slightly put off by the method of recounting history by telling tales of nineteenth century adventurers in Central Asia. Read more
Published 4 months ago by judith
5.0 out of 5 stars An epic account of some of the most relevant history to today's...
Whether it is the stories of brave men, exploration, espionage or betrayal and skulduggery this account of the long running battle between Imperial Britain and expansionist Russia... Read more
Published 5 months ago by MM
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