A huge book covering a conflict of labyrinthine complexity. I struggled to keep track of the many individuals and associations involved, but that didn...moreA huge book covering a conflict of labyrinthine complexity. I struggled to keep track of the many individuals and associations involved, but that didn't undermine my enjoyment of the book as a whole. An interesting record of a tragically polarised time. (less)
This is an epic tale of one of the most harrowing military disasters in history; a long retreat through sub-zero temperatures which ultimately resulte...moreThis 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?(less)
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: a...moreThis 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.(less)
I vividly remember that spring morning in 1982 when my father opened the curtains with the declaration "Wake up boys — we're at war!". The Falklands w...moreI vividly remember that spring morning in 1982 when my father opened the curtains with the declaration "Wake up boys — we're at war!". The Falklands was the first conflict I have any clear memory of. I can remember the crowds cheering the carriers off to sea, I can remember the talk of the awesome power of the new, untried Harrier jump jets, I remember the controversy of the exclusion zone and the infamous 'GOTCHA!' headline of the odious, rabble-rousing Sun newspaper. I can remember the whispered playground tales of the SAS, and the stories of the Argies turning tail when they saw the flash of the Ghurka's Kukri knives — said to demand the appeasement of blood once drawn from the scabbard.
So it was of great interest to me to read an account which separated the apocrypha from the truth. This book was written contemporaneously with the conflict, so it has the urgency of a first-hand report. Surprisingly, there seems to have been little else published about this most curious campaign since.
And curious it certainly was. I remember my Dad telling me at the time that this would in all probability be the last colonial war Britain ever fought, and I fancy he has surely been proved right. This is a very good account of that war. Written entirely, it is true, from the British perspective, but interestingly none the less biased for that. The summation of the diplomatic case is entirely even handed — in fact if anything the authors come down narrowly on the side of the Argentinians. The main point of the book though is that this was a war that could have been so easily avoided; it's as much a tale of the failure of diplomacy as the success of arms. Of a long-running, often bitter argument, over a wind-swept cluster of rocks in the unforgiving south atlantic. The opening lines sum it up very neatly:
"The Falkland Islands' misfortune has always been to be wanted more than they are loved"
As recent events have shown. The conflict resolved nothing. The arguments persist, and the unloved islands remain as wanted as ever.(less)
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 bri...moreAn 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.(less)
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, Dalrymple...moreThe 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.(less)
In a word, magnificent. I think this is one of the best works of historical biography — of history even — that I've ever read. The quality of Kendall'...moreIn a word, magnificent. I think this is one of the best works of historical biography — of history even — that I've ever read. The quality of Kendall's prose is really quite exceptional. Every page is enlivened by sentences so memorable you want to speak them aloud, just for the pleasure of hearing them roll off your tongue. His pen portraits are pithy and compelling: in just a few short paragraphs characters rise from the page, living again. And then of course there's the story he has to tell — what a story it is.
I knew little about Richard before I came to this book — an awareness of the Shakespeare play and the hunch-backed caricature of popular culture — but such is the power of Kendall's masterly portrait that I was moved to tears by the final pages. If you have any interest at all in this period — dammit, if you have any interest at all in the frailties of human nature and the struggle for power, then read it. Just read it.