The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia
by Peter Hopkirk
Release Date: April, 1994
Peter Hopkirk's book 'The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia' is a great historical account and a very enjoyable book to read. It is very rare nowadays to find a book that holds your attention throughout, without finding one boring section, this is one of those books. In over 560 pages (paperback edition) Peter Hopkirk tells the amazing stories of a number of early British and Russian officers and men involved in the great imperial struggle for supremacy in Central Asia.
I found myself reading late into the morning, at times I couldn't put the book down. Most of the time I had heard of the places and people involved but a lot of this story was new to me. The narrative read like a novel, gripping but informative, never boring and full of information, breathing life into history in a way that is hard to find now-a-days.
This is a great book and I fully agree with the quote on the front cover of the book by Jan Morris "Peter Hopkirk is truly the laureate of the Great Game." If you ever wanted to learn something about this large and remote area then this is the book to start with. If you enjoy military history then this book has it, if you enjoy historical accounts of exploration then this book has it, if you just enjoy good history then this book has it all.
The story of Britain and Russia carving out their Empires in India, Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is truly fascinating and I was amazed at the brave and resourceful men who carved their name in history during this period. Most people have heard of the Khyber Pass and places like Chitral however I had never heard of the Pamirs and Karakorams mountain ranges or of the Kerman and Helmund deserts nor of some of the fierce and warlike tribes that lived in these areas.
After reading this book I yearn for more information about this region and I intend to buy the rest of Peter Hopkirk's books. I would rate this book one of the better ones I have read this year and to finish my review I would like to quote Byron Farwell from his review in 'The New York Times':
"Those who enjoy vividly told tales of derring-do and seek a clear understanding of the history of the emerging central Asian countries will find this a glorious book."
The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk, is an amazing history of British and Russian imperialism clashing in the Middle East and Asia. Encompassing the time period from the late eighteenth century to the very beginning of the twentieth, the Great Game was much like an enormous game of chess, with Russia seeking to expand its borders and Britain to safeguard its interests in India. Hopkirk reveals both the national policy thoughts of the two nations and the daring moves of each's officers and agents in the regions in question, which include most of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India and the Caucasus. In many cases, the men Hopkirk describes were the first Westerners to set foot in such regions (for example, Bokhara, Khotan and Khokand).
Hopkirk has done incredible research: his bibliography is an impressive 15 pages. And even though he has a wealth of material to cover, he makes sure that the whole presentation is interesting to the reader. He tells a complete story, but expands on issues and events that are both important and interesting. As a result, the exploits of men like Conolly, Stoddart and Burnes come into clear focus against a backdrop of intrigue and, often, duplicitous ness, across a little over 500 pages.
Not unexpectedly, Hopkirk's account tends to be favor the British point of view slightly. Even so, he's quick to point out mistakes and torpedo unjustified accusations on both sides.
I found this book an easy and quick read, completing it in across about four days. While it progresses in roughly chronological sequence, it could easily be read piecemeal if the reader desired. The book kept my interest well, and didn't ever seem to wander aimlessly. I must believe that this is the authoritative account of the subject, and I can recommend it unconditionally, whether this is a subject area of interest for you, or you just want an interesting book to occupy your time.
Interestingly, the end of the Soviet Union has refocused the spotlight on many regions discussed in this book. If you find that you remain interested in the topic after reading it, I recommend following up with Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean or Journey to Khiva by Phillip Glazebrook.