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On Secret Service East of Constantinople: The Plot to Bring Down the British Empire Paperback – 27 Mar 2006

4.8 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; Reprint edition (27 Mar. 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719564514
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719564512
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 170,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

'Recreates with much verve and brilliance, the clandestine attempts by Britain's imperial rivals to subvert the British Empire in India' (Guardian)

'Tells with great fluency, authority and narrative skill . . . a story which no single book has told before' (Sunday Telegraph)

Book Description

Under the banner of a Holy War, the Germans and Turks set out in 1914 to foment violent revolutionary uprisings against the British in India and the Russians in Central Asia. This is the story of the Turco-German jihad told through the adventures of the secret agents and others who took part in it. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Format: Paperback
It must be 16 years since I spotted this in a book club catalogue and, out of idle curiosity, ordered it. Little did I realise that it would ensnare me in a fascination for this part of the world (Central Asia) and this period of history (early twentieth century) which has yet to show any signs of dissipating. This is due in part to Hopkirk's skill as a storyteller, in part to the astonishment of learning there was so much more to World War One than the mechanised butchery of the Western Front - and, if you thought really hard, Peter O'Toole prancing around in shiny white robes.

As mentioned by other reviewers, what we have here is the story of German attempts to stir up a Holy War against Britain amongst the Moslem population of Persia, Afghanistan and India. The principal dramatis personae are German and British secret agents and Indian revolutionaries, and their adventures are often related in their own words. It is Hopkirk's ability to frame these in the political and military context of the times that makes this book so engrossing.

The collapse of the Russian armed forces after the revolution of 1917, at a time when the Allies had all but won this clandestine war, drastically changed the game plan. The British now found themselves providing limited military support and large amounts of cash to anyone prepared to resist the eastwards march of Turkish and German armies - i.e. anyone other than the Bolsheviks. The intervention here, as elsewhere in the Russian Civil War, ultimately benefitted nobody and only prolonged the suffering of the local people.

It is rather poignant to reread this book at a time when the West is once again getting its collective knickers in a twist at the thought of militant Islam. The lessons of history, it seems, remain stubbornly unlearned. On a less maudlin note, when can we expect the next instalment in your Great Game series, Mr Hopkirk - the one covering the 1940s onwards?
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The first book by Peter Hopkirk I read was his famous 'the Great Game' on English-Russian rivalry in Central Asia. This one focuses on what happened in Turkey, the Caucasus, Persia and to some extent Afghanistan, India and Central Asia from say 1914 to the end of World War One.
Perhaps the main storyline is on the German attempts to incite muslims living under British and Russian rule against their colonial rulers. This involved infiltrations in Persia (trying to get the shah to invade British India or joint the Turks in their fight against Russia, but at the very least to tie down more British troops in the Gulf region), and a diplomatic mission via Persia to Afghanistan to convince the Afhgan king to invade British India. As we know now, all of this was way too ambitious and almost nothing was achieved.
Another even more interesting storyline is on the events in the Caucasus - notably Baku - in the confused time from the November 1917 revolution to the end of WWI. I had never realized that the Turks, having now shed the burden of fighting the Russians, embarked on a final desperate offensive and actually managed to capture Baku just before their own capitulation (reportedly one of the reasons for Allenby's success in Jeruzalem and Damascus was the diversion of Turkey's best troops to the Caucasus). There is also an interesting sideline into Central Asia, where 'Transcaspia' (say Turkmenistan) rose against the Bolsheviks and fought them with limited British assistance.
Hopkirk is a phenomenal writer. I really can't praise this book highly enough. Awesome!
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Format: Paperback
To most British readers, World War One is associated with the trenches on the Western front, the Gallipoli campaign or the Arab revolt in Syria, made famous of characters like T.E. Lawrence and Ibn Saud.

On Secret Service East of Constantinople serves as a near sequel to Hopkirk's over work, The Great Game. During World War One, Constantinople is in alliance with the Central Powers opening up a new front in the Caucasus between the doomed empires of Russia and Turkey. The British, fearing an invasion of India by a joint German-Turkish army sent incredible brave and resourceful officers behind enemy lines through Afghanistan and Persia to gather as much intelligence as they can while avoiding capture and certain death. The German Empire, desperate for colonial possessions of its own is pushing to gather allies of oppressed people in Central Asia and Indian freedom fighters to drive the British into the sea. The extraordinary means by which they mean to accomplish this is through gun boat diplomacy, cynical promises and bare-faced lies is to force the Muslim peoples of Central Asia to rise up in Jihad against the oppressive British while dismantling the dying Ottoman Empire and claiming most of it for themselves. Only a handful of brave men stand in their way...

Hopkirk's books are character driven and it works in a similar way to the best of the classic spy novels like Buchan's Greenmantle. The British officers that went east of Constantinople were undoubtedly brave but there was also fascinating and engaging in their own right, some of whom have only recently died.
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