Examines the mid-19th-century Afghan war as a tragic result of neocolonial ambition, cultural collision and hubris, drawing on previously untapped primary sources to explore such topics as the reestablishment of a puppet-leader Shah, the conflict's brutal human toll and the similarities between the war and present-day challenges.
For this reason, I would recommend reading the last chapter first, where Dalrymple puts the story in context and explains the work and research that resulted in the book. Had I done so, I believe I would have been more appreciative of the long quoted passages and detail.
Nevertheless, if you're a Great Game historian, or a historical wars buff, you will want to read this work that fills in the Afghan side of the British-Afghan 19C wars with all their appalling atrocities, horrors and arrogant behaviour (witnessed and suffered by both parties).
One wonders, do any politicians read ?
I was particularly taken with Lady Sale, the wife of Sir Robert “Fighting Bob” Sale. While “Fighting Bob” and those under his command were under siege in Jalalabad, Lady Sale and other British dependents were in Kabul and left in the disastrous winter retreat. Lady Sale was among those taken hostage by Akbar Khan. She had as much, if not more fortitude than the British officers among the hostages, and contributed to their escape from captivity. Dalrymple quotes extensively from her published journal account of the events of 1841-42, and it piqued my interest in reading the whole thing. Project Gutenberg has a free electronic version of Lady Sale's journal that now resides in my reader app.
The history of Afghanistan, the cultures, the people and the historical sources are all new to me, so this becomes a revelation to find the density of political, dynastic and cultural viewpoints available to bring the story to life. An exceptional reminder that history is not just something that happened here, but that happens everywhere.
Neither the British nor the Afghanis come out of this tale smelling so sweetly. British imperialism and an assumption of superiority led them to ignore the politics on the ground and ultimately alienate a peoples who were initially only to willing to support them. The Afghan reluctance to accept a place in the wider world and to resists cultural and political change led them to 'win' this War, but to lose the opportunity to enter a wider world' a position that has not really changed since then.
A very readable history revealing much that is new to the Western reader and which provides the opportunity to reflect on how history can teach us how to act for the better today, if only we would let it.