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113 of 117 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 on 28 Jan. 2013 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 on 16 Feb. 2013 by Romulus


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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely readable historical narrative, 23 Nov. 2013
This is the fourth of William Dalrymple's books that I've read and, to be honest, I bought it more because I had enjoyed the others than because I was particularly interested in 19th century Afghanistan and Britain's disastrous campaigns there. So it sat for a while on my bookshelf...
But when I started reading it, I couldn't put it down. Dalrymple's writing is powerful, organised and accurate; he narrates as well as he analyses and he summarises superbly. His use of primary sources is first-rate: he is both an excellent historian and a gifted writer - the two don't often go together.
I was slightly intimidated by the lengthy cast of characters which starts the book, but needlessly so: he introduces and recaps events and personal histories so that the reader isn't forced to constantly refer back to remind him/herself of who a given individual is.
Dalrymple's fairness is very winsome, showing both the raw savagery and the striking courtesy of his cast of thousands, even to the point of describing the Army of Retribution, as they discover bodies of dead comrades and revealing this as a powerful cause of their barbarism towards the Afghans. Thanks to his extensive mastery of languages, he has gained access to material which has not been widely available to European readers and this gives the book both balance and authority.
His narrative of the retreat from Kabul was so brilliantly written, it will remain in my memory for a very long time indeed.
The only minor quibble I have with the book is its size and weight: with better use of line and paragraph spacing it could have been somewhat more reader-friendly...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 Learning the lessons of history, 1 Jan. 2014
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J. Baldwin "JB" (Birmngham, England) - See all my reviews
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This is a fantastic book in which William Dalrymple provides a gripping account of the first British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 - `a war begun for no wise purpose' - and the subsequent catastrophic defeat and ignominious retreat from Kabul in 1842. A final chapter deals with the return of the relief force, the ruthlessly violent and destructive Army of Retribution, an army which, Dalrymple notes, "committed what today would be classified as war crimes".

'Return of a King' is a catalogue of military incompetence, stupidity and treachery on a monumental scale, and the story is told in simple, yet very elegant, prose. Dalrymple is not just a great story teller; he also explains complex events in an exceptionally clear, vivid and engaging way. As the lengthy bibliography and 34 pages of endnotes indicate, this book is scholarly and based upon a huge amount of archival research which includes the examination of "hundreds of tattered letters and blood-stained diaries". Dalrymple makes excellent use of all these sources to show exactly what those on the spot were thinking about what was going on.

If the lessons of history - in particular that "Afghanistan is no easy place to rule" - have still not been learnt, they are all too obvious in this study.
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent portrayal of a long forgotten but highly informative historical disaster., 19 Feb. 2015
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'Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.' Edmund Burke. I wonder how well those who decided to invade Afghanistan either side of the turn of the twentieth/twenty-first century knew this nineteenth century invasion. It would make them sweat to read it now.

The story is exceptionally well written and reads like a fast paced accident waiting to happen being viewed in slow motion. All the detail is there, the pace is relentless and the sense of impending doom hanging over the invaders is palpable. The use of contemporary letters and diaries further enlivens an already pretty lively story of what being at the sharp end of international power politics is like.

It also portrays the importance of understanding local politics, culture and religious beliefs and the disastrous consequences of failing to do so.

The only difficulty I had in reading is was in keeping up with the identify of some of the characters involved in the early stages of the book.

An excellent portrayal of a long forgotten but highly informative historical disaster which still has implications in Afghanistan to this day.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We have Been Here Before, 2 Feb. 2013
By 
Dr Barry Clayton (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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The author has a deep knowledge of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. His latest book is very well written, pacy and informative. There are numerous books available about the Anglo-Afghan Wars. These are wars that writers about the current misguided Fourth War in Afghanistan find it very hard not to refer to even if many of the analogies with today are invalid.

I am pleased to see that the author in an after-note concedes that the First Afghan War was not futile. Many writers have made the error of saying it had no military or political benefit. The reforms we introduced proved in fact to be very valuable.

Of course, it is very easy to find resonances with the current war. Several people who fought in the First War on returning home wrote about, for example, the lack of purpose, the incompetence of senior military, and stated that our evacuation in fact resembled a retreat. 89% of the last 55 books on the present conflict (written by retired military, retired diplomats, journalists and academics) have been scathing about the conduct of the war.

The withdrawal of Soviet troops after the Soviet invasion failed to achieve its objectives is frequently and wrongly viewed as a disaster. Recently released documents show it was not. It was in fact an orderly withdrawal decided upon by the Politburo after much analysis. It is a pity NATO forces have not carried out a similar exercise.

It is interesting that Dalrymple shows how the Pashtuns (then known as Pathans)of Kandahar and Helmund were, as now, at the heart of the mid-19th century war. As now, assassination, ambush, and superb Afghan marksmanship were commonplace.
While it is wrong to draw too many similarities from that war with the insurgency today,it would undoubtedly have been beneficial if today's military leaders had spent a little more time studying the history of this war-torn, poverty-stricken land. But then, sadly, history has never been a popular study for the military hierarchy.

This is a book well worth reading. I have not given it 5 stars because there is very little in it that is new about the First Afghan War. Read with 'Flashman' it will pass the winter nights rather well.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST read if you want to understand Afghanistan!, 8 Mar. 2013
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R. F. Sked (Midhurst UK) - See all my reviews
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Having heard Jeremy Kyle speak to the author on BBC Radio 2, I ordered the book. Daunted by its size this soon dissipated after reading the first few pages. So readable, it goes along at a busy pace, but holding your interest like a thriller novel. Small hints, and current News broadcasts, make you want to read on. Did this really happen? Why did we let it? Was the incompetence of the British decision makers brought to book? Amazed by the brutality of the Afghans, you understand why they behaved the way they did, then and now. Perhaps if the "White" man had not been so greedy, and left them alone, Afghanistan would be a better, different place. Less religious zeal, more compassionate. But all the time as you read you are aware of the downward spiral the British are following, something we have yet to learn from. This terrible chapter, in both Afghani and British history is only known to the Afghans, it is taught to them in school, it should be on our curriculum. A superb book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Readable scholarship!, 6 May 2013
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It's astonishing how quickly Dalrymple has eased himself into position as one of the great historians of the British Empire, particularly the parts played by Scots. Okay, so the Afghans never actually settled down to being coloured red on the old maps. And here you'll find pretty straightforward explanations of all the reasons why not. Dalrymple's speciality is turning up new material as well as consulting accounts that have always been there, but happened to have been written by the guys on the other side. This tells a parallel story to Ben Macintyre's "Josiah the Great" (from which Dalrymple quotes rather liberally, while ignoring Josiah Harlan - must be a turf thing - they share many of the same pictures, too). It's a big book with big horizons and contemporary resonance: having already seen off Alexander, Genghis Khan, the Persians, the Russians, the Americans, and us (several times), a tribal elder tells the author "Next time it will be China".
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Return of the King, 23 April 2014
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In general we accept the history fed to us as the truth. However, so often over the years, it has been politically manipulated to show the winners in the best light. William Dalrymple wipes myth and heroics aside to show us the truth, so often horrendous and awful, but also at times inspiring about Britain's historic relationship with what is now Afghanistan. I generally read in bed before going to sleep. The 'Return of the King' had me voting for bed earlier and earlier and actually getting to sleep later and later as I became totally immersed with both the characters and events of our occupation of Kabul. I finished the book with regret at having to leave old friend at the end of a journey and with considerable sympathy for the Indian Sepoys and camp followers as well as anyone else who had put their trust with politicians.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well that about wraps it up for The First Afghan War, 17 Jan. 2014
Well that about wraps it up for The First Afghan War then. I doubt very much that there is a need for another book on the subject, since this one is so comprehensive. It is a long book but I can't say that there is anything superfluous in it. Wonderfully written, I enjoyed it throughout. The war itself was a monumental cock-up by the British, and the chief villains deserve the criticism they get in the book. Nevertheless, in his wish to be seen taking a neutral stance, Dalrymple goes slightly overboard on his damning of the Brits and tolerance of Afghan atrocities. Most of those slaughtered in the Khyber were civilians. Dalrymple has gone to great lengths to obtain Afghan historical sources which in the end is what differentiates this work from the herd, combined with the quality of the writing.
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