Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game & the Race for Empire in Central Asia
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Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game & the Race for Empire in Central Asia

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  316 ratings  ·  36 reviews
"Much more than a magisterial work of scholarship: it is an absorbing inquiry into men & motives that is one part le Carre, one part Indiana Jones."--Jason Goodwin, NY Times Book Review
From the romantic conflicts of the Victorian Great Game to the war-torn history of the region in recent decades, Tournament of Shadows traces the struggle for control of Central Asia &...more
Kindle Edition, 705 pages
Published September 30th 1999 by Basic Books (NY) (first published 1999)
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The literature of The Great Game, maybe only twenty years back a fairly esoteric field, has now gone viral with what is being called 'Great Game Studies'. Like anything intriguing and underappreciated, it seems like it was better, back then, when only known in some circles.

The Great Game was the office slang used to refer to the several-hundred year contest for influence and regional control in Central Asia, as practiced mainly by the British Empire and Czarist Russia. And also as it affected th...more
Elaine Nelson
I'm vacillating whether to go with 2 or 3 stars -- parts of this book were fantastic, great narrative, crazy crazy characters in a vast story. Maybe that's the problem: the story was a little TOO vast, so there was no single theme that seemed to hold it together, just a chronicle of one thing after another.

I will single out the maps as a particular irritation: the book has lots and lots of locations which are likely to be unfamiliar to the general reader, and the maps were just not good enough t...more
Huw Evans
The borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan have always been a troubled zone. One hundred years ago three great powers at their zenith were competing for security of their empires. Referred to as the Great Game, information gathering was the key to trying to exert preferential influence in the area. By a mixture of bribery, corruption, infiltration and blackmail Russia, France and the UK tried to maintain the balance in their own favour. This is a fascinating, well researched read and one hundred ye...more
It traces the history of Central Asia by following the lives of the European explorers. At once depressing, edifying and entertaining. Should be required reading for all politicians and State Dept. personnel.
This is history from the outside; Europeans (including the Russians) and Americans behaving badly. Lots of the standard tale is here: the English being thrown into bug pits in Bukhara and hounded from Afghanistan (although the famous loss of all but one member of the expeditionary force is explained better here than elsewhere). There is astonishing hubris and mendacity here, as Aurel Stein loots Central Asia on behalf of Harvard. There are almost endless tales of astonishing, almost pointless su...more
The authors describe the 'Great Game' as the 'Victorian prologue to the Cold War'. British imperialism regarded Russian expansion into Central Asia as a real threat to the 'jewel in the crown': the Indian subcontinent. The first central character to emerge in this history was William Moorcroft who had arrived in India in 1808, abandoning his successful veterinary practice in London (he had been the first Englishman to qualify as a veterinarian and helped establish the first veterinary college)....more
Perhaps it is my simplistic thinking, but when I picked up this book, I thought it would be the history of the Great Game in Central Asia. And when I think of Central Asia, I typical think of the Soviet "stans." For these authors, Central Asia encompasses everything from India to Mongolia, Tibet to Turkmenistan.

This book is too ambitious. It tries to tell the complete 200+ year history of the Great Game while evoking the intrigue and narrative panache of Kipling and Hopkirk. However, what took...more
Erik Graff
Jan 04, 2011 Erik Graff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
I picked this book up as the latest bit of my personal journey to the East, with some particular concern for obtaining more knowledge about Afghanistan which, with India, Pakistan, Sikkim, Tibet and Bhutan, is one of the book's centre's of attention. Like most public-schooled kids in the States, I obtained a good grounding in the history of the West, of North America and of Europe, but very little about the rest of the world except as they concerned the Western powers. The eastern movement of my...more
Damian Streets
Not sure this book sets out what it intends to. Doesn't quite draw all the themes of the Great Game together, rather is a patchwork of biographies of the quirky souls who served empire abroad.

Starts quite strongly with the British obsession with the Russians and Afghanistan. But becomes a bit laboured and ponderous plotting the imperial nations attempts to impose themselves on isolationist Tibet.

The strongest element is exposing the mystical bent of many of the empire builders and the frankly s...more
Iñaki Tofiño
573 pages to tell me that "the Great Game really was a game , with scores but no substantive prizes"? Get out of here!
But yes indeed, that is the conclusion of the book, a well researched study on the European (mostly British and Russian) explorations/colonization/imperial maneuvers in Central Asia. I have learned quite a bit about explorers to Afghanistan and Tibet during the XVIII-XX centuries, but the interesting part, the study of why this region is pivotal to modern geopolitical issues is m...more
Thorough history of the geo-political competition for central Asia -- most importantly Russia and Britain.
I had mixed feelings on this book. The information it contains is interesting, and the scholarship is deeply impressive, but it was dull as crap and kind of boring. You shouldn't describe something, anything, as "interesting", "impressive," and "dull" in the same sentence.

As far as survey history books go, this one is reasonable. It covers British, Russian, and American intrigues in Asia from ~1810 -> 1960, with a particular focus on Tibet. The portraits of the men involved in the "Great Game...more
Tim P
A narrative style history of "The Great Game"...this thing is about a million pages long, but brings historical figures to life in a way that makes you feel as if you are with them for every furrowed brow, every political chess move, every agonizing decision about the fate of peoples and foreign policy. Provides an excellent framework for understanding the current war in Afghanistan as well as the economic Wild West that is Central Asia.

Highly recommend, although my buddy Carlos swears "The Gre...more
A fascinating history and a wonderful region of the world. I especially enjoy the stories of the explorers - their amazing achievements against a backdrop of less idealistic empire empire building and intrigue. However, I'm finding it a bit of a difficult read. The scope in geography and time is bewildering. Not to mention the numerous stories of apparently minor fiugres - many of who get only a passing mention.
An interesting treatise on the international power struggles in Afghanistan, northern India, and Tibet waged by European powers. Does a lot of backtracking, and overall chronological continuity is muddled. More or less arranged by country: England's interest in Central Asia, then Russia, then back to England, then America, with other interested parties sprinkled in liberally. An engaging read, but lacks cohesion.
The history is great -- you learn lots about the British Empire. It kind of skimps on other stuff, though -- I didn't get nearly enough of the Stans (including Afghan and Pak). And I got way more of Tibet than I would have cared to learn, though given the current climate perhaps it was good for me after all.
Matt Ralph
Great read. Loved the colourful characters, in particular Nicholas Roerich, the Russian artist turned explorer, Madame Blavatsky religious guru and charlatan, and their astonishing ability to con, bluff and badger their way into making history in an exceedingly interesting part of the world.
It was about archeology, no, about Tibet, or was it Afghanistan? Bery confusing and not focused. I did learn that many of the problems in Afghanistan are the result of the colonial powers, particularly Great Britain, doing their thing in the 19th and early 20th century.
First two thirds are very good and entertaining, but it draaaags. Also they were so ambitious with the content that it become hard to keep track of everything and everyone. Needed more reference material, maps, glossary, etc.
Mark Singer
An excellent companion to Peter Hopkirk's The Great Game (which I also own), Tournament of Shadows continues the story of British, Russian, and later American ambitions in Central Asia up through the Cold War.
I can't get my hand on enough about this era but despite being a more accomplished wordsmith KEM never quite manages to conjure up the brand of gas lit magic Peter Hopkirk brought to the same subject.
Still reading this great history of the British vs Russian struggle for control of central Asia. The characters seem to have stepped out of a fictional account, but are sadly real.
Mike F
History of the first westerners to reach central asia (which took a while). Mostly about Russians and English. These guys (esp. Russians) make Lewis and Clark look like cub scouts.
Quite a well written book. Some interesting facts to the great game from the persective of the English, Americans, Russians and to a lesser extent the Germans.
the men and policies of the 'great game' between britain and russia over the mid east. extends to modern times with the u.s. playing the brit role. fascinating.
Great for an historical perspective on Central Asia. A grand view laced with tasty personal stories and vignettes.
This one was a doozy. I will write more on this one later. Happy New Year everyone.
Exuding a grand romance and elegant intrigue not to be found in today's foreign policy.
Bob Peru
i love me some central asian history books and this is a good 'un.
Jul 19, 2013 Riaz marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I am curious to read this book if possible please.
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KARL E. MEYER has been the senior foreign affiars writer on the editorial boards for both the Washington Post and the New York Times. He is currently the editor at large for the World Policy Journal.

SHAREEN BLAIR BRYSAC, formerly a prize-winning documentary producer for CBS News, is the author of three books two of them with Karl Meyer."
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