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Thrillingly told story peppered by some eccentric language and a questionable historical omission,
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This review is from: On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire (Paperback)
Hopkirk staked his claim to double dealings and daring-dos in the unforgiving deserts and plains of Central Asia in his first book 'The Great Game'. This book moves the story on from the British-Russian rivalry at the turn of the century to the British-German/Turkish rivalry during World War I. They are superbly written and thrilling accounts of characters most of us have never heard of. But for a bit of luck and planning many of the German agents we encounter in these pages might have become as famous as TE Lawrence, as they use all their considerable guile and ingenuity to stir up mainly muslim tribes from Persia to India to topple the British and Russian empires. Hopkirk's inspiration as he says in his dedication, was to tell the true story of John Buchan's Hannay story 'Greenmantle', and the book certainly moves along like an adventure tale. Too often however he slips over into boy's own territory, and the book reads like an anti-German penny-dreadful from a war propagandist, almost as if he needs to remind us in these unpatriotic times whose side we're supposed to be on. Germany's perfidious and expansionist intentions are never seriously questioned and there's no room here for Niall Ferguson-style revisionism about Britain's war aims. To force the point home, the author refers to Germany's 'aggressive' naval program and its supposed plan of eastward expansion - 'Drang nach osten' - and its advocacy of a preventive war. He cites contemporary literature that heightened and popularised British hysteria and paranoia about Germany's growing power, such as Erskine Childer's 'Riddle of the Sands' and Bernhardi's, 'Germany and the Next War'. Hopkirk invariably refers to the Germans and their Turkish and muslim allies as 'fanatical, ruthless, treacherous, devious, extremist, nefarious, unscrupulous, and overbearing.' He even comes close at one point to hilarious blackadder-style homoerotic innuendo describing the Kaiser's entourage on a state visit to Britain before the war as composing of 'several foreign ministry officials and some large helmeted Prussian guards.' For a book written in 1994 I would have expected a slightly more balanced and less jingoistic account of the historical and political background of these events. But apart from these rather quaint and childish digressions the book is one of those rare specimens for a history work that you don't want it to end. I look forward to reading the 'Great Game' and others in the series.
One other point is that given the period and the region covered in the book, Hopkirk pulls off the remarkable and questionable feat of religiously avoiding reference to the Armenian genocide despite mentioning them in several other contexts. In fact, he gives some credence to the Turkish claims that Armenians were aiding and abetting the Russians, implying Turkish hostility was amply justified.