The 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan is a conflict I've read of several times before. As with his earlier book 'The Last Mughal' though, DalrympleThe 1839 British invasion of Afghanistan is a conflict I've read of several times before. As with his earlier book 'The Last Mughal' though, Dalrymple commands attention on even familiar subjects through both the mastery of his narrative style and the thoroughness of his research.
'The Last Mughal' was distinguished by its use of hitherto unpublished Urdu and Persian court documents. Similarly, for this book, Dalrymple has uncovered first-hand Afghan accounts of the war, bringing a new perspective to bear on a period usually only recounted from British testimonies.
As a cautionary tale it is without parallel, and one doesn't need the author's afterword to see the relevance of these long-past events to what is happening now. An interesting thing that comes out of the postscript however is just what long memories the Afghan peoples have. As Dalrymple says, the figureheads of the 1839 invasion, though long forgotten in Britain, are household names in Afghanistan. They have assumed mythic status; folk devils to scare the children with.
Folk devils could well describe the Victorian attitude to the Afghans themselves, but in this book they come into sharper focus than ever before. Here for the first time we see the shifting allegiances and motivations of a gallimaufry of tribes, and bloodthirsty though the denouement of this sorry affair was, it is hard not to admit that right was on their side.
For lovers of narrative history I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Amongst the popular historians working today that I've read, I'd have no hesitation in ranking Dalrymple in the top tier. His prose is elegant, his viewpoint balanced and his research formidable....more
An excellent primer to the 19th century battle which irrevocably changed the balance of power. At under 150 pages including notes this is only the briAn excellent primer to the 19th century battle which irrevocably changed the balance of power. At under 150 pages including notes this is only the briefest of introductions, and is necessarily light on background, but the salient points are tackled with verve and brio, and as an appetite whetter it can't be faulted....more
The marketing spiel for this book claims that it is 'the first new Sherlock Holmes novel to be published with the endorsement of the Conan Doyle estatThe marketing spiel for this book claims that it is 'the first new Sherlock Holmes novel to be published with the endorsement of the Conan Doyle estate'. I'd have thought that that honour would have gone to the collection published by Adrian Conan Doyle in the 1950s, but that's by the by. The novel has garnered a truly impressive list of five star reviews, but though I enjoyed it, I feel unable to wholeheartedly second their appreciation.
For one thing, much has been made of the authenticity, the fidelity of this book to the original canon. I should say that it deviates quite drastically in two distinct ways, one consciously, and the other less so. The first thing that grates is the twenty-first century sensibility; this is both a novel with a social conscience and a very contemporary subject matter. The grisly minutiae of the modern crime novel sits uneasily in a Holmes story, as do his new-found progressive sensibilities. Each generation remakes Holmes anew, and I have no problem with that — in fact I enjoy it. But I do think that if you make great play of inheriting the mantle of Conan Doyle, you must play by his rules, and not your own.
My second point is less overt: I disagree with most critics about the sensitivity with which this Holmes has been drawn. One of the great pleasures for me in the original stories was the capriciousness of Holmes' character. It's one of the most delicious ironies in literature that the supposed 'thinking machine' is anything but: he's a petulant, vainglorious monomaniac, with little time for anyone or anything save himself.
This is the side to Holmes that I found sorely missing in this book. The showy deductions were there, the scenery was all in place, but where was the arrogance? Where was the selfishness that Jeremy Brett drew out so well in the late TV series? The Holmes in this story seems a quiet, efficient and remarkably well balanced man, entirely unsuited for his chosen profession. When he does offer us asides, they are inevitably so clumsy and obvious that they would have been better left out altogether.
Anybody reading this review will by now have the distinct impression that I detest this book. Far from it. It is big on atmosphere and rattles along at a good pace. It is what you might call a good 'fireside book', and I think I should probably have been less hard on it were it just one of the many apocryphal Holmes stories. But as I said before, the 'official' imprimatur, and the many laurels it has gathered make it subject to a far more rigorous examination....more
This was a revelation. There are flashes of wit in Sherlock Holmes, but I never realised that ACD could be so funny. Gerard is a brilliant creation: aThis was a revelation. There are flashes of wit in Sherlock Holmes, but I never realised that ACD could be so funny. Gerard is a brilliant creation: a vainglorious, boastful Lothario, blessed with the talent and good fortune to find himself right at the heart of events in Napoleonic europe.
This collection of tales are a rumbustious compendium of derring-do, and as conceited as the Brigadier is, by the end of it one cannot help but love him. Why he hasn't been translated more successfully to screen is a mystery to me....more
This is an epic tale of one of the most harrowing military disasters in history; a long retreat through sub-zero temperatures which ultimately resulteThis is an epic tale of one of the most harrowing military disasters in history; a long retreat through sub-zero temperatures which ultimately resulted in the deaths of an estimated million people. The privations suffered by the retreating Grand Armée are scarcely believable, but the fascinating coda to the affair are its ramifications. Napoleon's defeat in Russia spelled the end of his empire and also the rise of authoritarian Prussia. It was this, more than anything which stoked the nationalist fires in Europe that in the twentieth century would rage out of control in two destructive world wars. What cost hubris?...more