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."