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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ghosts of the present haunt this book about the past.
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...
Published 22 months ago by Nelson

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21 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Detailed but flawed
Similar to another reviewer, I regrettably didn't find much new in this work on the First Anglo-Afghan War. Perhaps I was hoping for too much. However its a systematic and comprehensive narration of the events and as such does the job well.

What gives the book it's bulk, and which I found a tad annoying, is the never ending quotes that fill almost every page...
Published 21 months ago by Romulus


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perceptive, 5 Aug 2013
This review is from: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (Kindle Edition)
This is an utterly fantastic book. It covers the failed British invasion of Afghanistan in 1838. It is an extremely well researched book, drawing on newly found Afghan sources. But it is the clarity of the writing of the story that has such obvious links with the UK's recent involvement in the country that makes it rise above its rivals. This should be on Michael Gove's latest curriculum. At least it has Empire in it - even if the story ends badly.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, 23 July 2013
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Superbly researched and written, this book thoroughly examines the failure of British policy in Afghanistan in a previous era. Sadly many of the errors have been repeated subsequently, and the prognosis for the results of our current engagement are depressing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the book, 20 July 2013
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Peter Ffrench (twickenham.UK) - See all my reviews
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wonderful,worth ever penny of the money,he is a wonderful writer and I recommend him to all who have an interest in THE Empire and the way we treated it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, well-researched, and absorbing. Less effective in Kindle format., 13 Jun 2013
Return of a King
Review by the Cote D'Azur Men's Book Group

The opinions in our group on this book divided initially. A few were confused by the vast number of places, names and interrelationships, and found the first 100 or more pages hard going, despite the sketched maps and 23 pages of biographies and charts of 'dramatis personae'. The Kindle version has their splendid photographs gathered at the end of the book, rather than being distributed through the text, which is a great pity. We may note that in a book where the reader may need move between sections, for example to refer to the glossary, to biographies or photos, an e-book format can be less effective.

Despite the slow start, most found this is an excellent book. Dalrymple's descriptions, based clearly on a prodigious amount of research, not only British but, more importantly, from Afghan and Persian sources, paint a wonderful picture of the personalities and lifestyles in the region at the time. With similarly sourced material to explain the first British incursion into Afghanistan in the 1800s one gets a vivid picture of the tribal nature of the whole surrounding region, and the origins of Afghan society leading to the horrors of the British Army's retreat and comprehensive defeat. The parallels with the war still being fought today are striking. The British may have forgotten, or elected to forget, their history in Afghanistan but for the Afghans it is clearly still very much alive.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost Lessons of Truth Stranger than Fiction, 8 April 2013
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Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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Fearing Russian designs on India in "The Great Game", the British tried to gain influence in the potential Achilles' heel of Afghanistan. Ignoring expert advice, they chose the wrong side in reinstating the honourable but hidebound Shah Shuja whom they imagined would be more malleable than the shrewd reigning monarch Dost Mohammed.

If this regime change reminds you of more recent events, there are also parallels in the lack of strategic planning and a "longer view", and neglect of the topography, climate and culture of the area. In breathtaking arrogance admittedly combined with crazy courage, the first 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan set off in winter, ignoring the several feet of snow in the mountains, omitting to clear rough terrain for gun carriages or to protect themselves against ambush and constant sniping once they entered the narrow mountain passes. The problem was compounded by the thousands of camp followers, women and children with presumably no means of support if they stayed behind.

If the detail is often overwhelming, the quirky truth which is stranger than fiction grips one's attention: three hundred camels needed to carry the military wine cellar whilst elsewhere troops could not advance owing to lack of camels to transport vital supplies. One regiment even brought its own foxhounds, which somehow survived to hunt jackals later!

It is all the more poignant that, having reached Kabul after suffering terrible privations yet still gaining the upper hand, the army squandered its advantage under dithering leadership so that in the ill-advised, typically chaotic eventual retreat only one man made it back to Jalalabad, not counting the thousands left behind as captives.

In what resembles an epic novel, Dalrymple describes how the British sent an Army of Retribution to salvage a little honour by taking brutal reprisals which would now be regarded as the most vicious war crimes, but in the end the government wrote off the vast sums spent on the unsuccessful regime change.

Apart from the numerous astonishing anecdotes and vivid character studies, one of the most interesting aspects of the book is the extensive quoting from the colourful prose of the historians of the day: "Abdullah Khan Achakzsi.....launched an attack like a fierce lion or the serpent that inhabits the scented grass".

Although Dalrymple supplies a list of all the main characters with accompanying explanations, I found this too indigestible as an opener, and recommend keeping your own notes of "who's who".

My only criticism is the inadequate maps. Also, apart from the reduced weight, this is less suitable for a Kindle in that maps and family trees are illegible on the small screen, plus it's too fiddly checking out details from previous pages as is often necessary in this type of book. It's also harder to appreciate on the Kindle that the main text is shorter than it seems, the last 30 per cent of the book being notes.

This is a fascinating account, although it focuses narrowly on 1839-42. For a wider sweep, try "Butcher and Bolt" by David Loyn.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The deaf leading the blind, 17 July 2013
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William Dalrymple does a fine job in retelling the history of the first battle for Afghanistan.

The Dramatis Personae I found probably the most difficult part of the book because by the time I read it I found it hard to remember who was who although that didn't last long because as the story unfolds you quickly put them all in their proper places. Dalrymple's description of the lifestyle of the Afghani rulers and the Great Game is magnificent.

The battle for Afghanistan itself is an excellent example of how not to do it. To quote one of the participants, who wrote after the event, that `a war begun for no purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government, which directed, or the great of body of troops, which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, has been acquired with this war.'

The similarities between the first battle for Afghanistan and of the campaign there of ISAF and the Americans are indeed striking. They took the country from the Taliban in 2001 and will no doubt give it back to them once they leave, having wasted a tremendous amount of lives, money and time in-between and having achieved practically nothing.

What I loved about this book is the way the author brings history to life by quoting participants from all parties as often as possible. On the other hand, I didn't like it that all the maps are at the beginning of the book. I would have liked them more detailed and a little bit closer to the action.

I admire the author's courage to go digging for information in a country where conditions to move around freely are at present somewhat hazardous.

Good show!
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27 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, but written with a light touch, 29 Jan 2013
Return of the King is an enthralling and elegantly written account of the first retreat from Afghanistan. The climax of the book revolves around the brutal and sad demise of the retreating British soldiers (and their Indian comrades), but this book is of equal interest due to the folly of British politicians and intelligence officers.
William Dalrymple does not hammer home the argument of history repeating itself though. He let's the story (tragedy) speak for itself.
This book also reads well autonomous to what is happening in Afghanistan today. The narrative involves spies, action, power-politics and exotic locations and characters. My only small criticism is that the book lack strong female characters, but that is hardly the fault of the author. Women as well as men will enjoy reading this though.
I'd say this is the author's best history book to date.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fills in the background to a modern conflict, 25 Nov 2014
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In 1839 an expeditionary force entered Afghanistan, deposed the ruling family and placed their own choice of king on the throne. Over the next three years that force was harassed, attacked and eventually driven out of the country at devastating loss of life and humiliation.

The invading force was British and their motivation was to do with the relationship between Afghanistan and Russia. However the local tribes disliked the British more than they disliked each other and chose to work together to restore some form of independence for their country. Starved of supplies and facing a harsh winter the British choose to retreat over the Khyber Pass, some were fortunate to be captured and held as hostages, others were less fortunate. Eventually the British regrouped and invaded from India to wreak their revenge but the first Afghan War was a lesson for the British Empire.

Fast forward nearly two centuries and Afghanistan is still an area fought over. The Russians invaded in the 1980s and were driven out by the western-sponsored Taliban, now the Taliban are the enemy and the intertribal warfare still continues. The roots and the background to the modern conflict are evident in the events described in this book.

William Dalrymple has produced a meticulously researched account of the first Afghan War. He has used source material from all protagonists to great effect, no-one is a hero and some terrible decisions were made.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly recommended. Beautifully written from rich sources of information. Relevant to modern times., 14 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan (Kindle Edition)
Marvellous book, sets context beautifully for modern times in Afghanistan, Iraq & Syria. No one comes out of the period covered by the book well. I was completely unaware of the British incompetence and the terrible retribution meted out by both sides. Should be compulsory reading for all civil servants, politicians and military strategists.
PS I have the lovely hard-back version too which I treasure, but found the kindle much easier for my daily commute.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding, 1 Feb 2013
An outstanding work of History, which echoes in our present. Afghans today ask their countrymen whether they are sons of Shah Shuja or Dost Mohammed. It's a pity that Tony Blair and other government ministers didn't ask them the same question - or listen to their answers.
The set piece chapters about the retreat from Kabul can send a chill down one's spine, both because of Dalrymple's powerful prose and also because there is a chance that when British and American soldiers leave Afghanistan now there may be similar bloody scenes.

Have read both the first Flashman and Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game. If you've read and enjoyed those books then I recommend you read Return of the King too.

The first big History book of 2013 may turn out to be the best History book of the year also. Have read a couple of great reviews in Sunday Times and Evening Standard, but would urge people to read the book itself.
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