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Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  2,419 ratings  ·  376 reviews
In the spring of 1839 British forces invaded Afghanistan for the first time, re-establishing Shah Shuja on the throne, in reality as their puppet, and ushering in a period of conflict over the territory still unresolved today. In 1842, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad against the foreign occupiers, and the country exploded into violent rebellion. In w ...more
Hardcover, 515 pages
Published February 4th 2013 by Bloomsbury Publishing (first published 2013)
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Niyaz Ahmed Hi, the book does indeed contain a few illustrations. But, I think the gripping sequence of events as told by Dalrymple does not need illustrations to…moreHi, the book does indeed contain a few illustrations. But, I think the gripping sequence of events as told by Dalrymple does not need illustrations to entertain, especially if you are bitten by the history bug.(less)

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 ·  2,419 ratings  ·  376 reviews

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Joshua Rigsby
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
I know so little about life in central Asia, its history, culture, language, or anything else. Dalrymple's book was revelatory in many ways. I had no idea that British interests in the region were inspired by a desire to counter Russian activities, and ultimately protect the British money-making colonies in India. The characters Dalrymple paints are fascinating: from the Russian and British agents tasked with bending the ears of kings and tribal rulers, to the Afghan nobility themselves.

There i
This was a fine and critical account of the British and their advance and painful and bloody exit in Afghanistan.

The author, who lives in India and has a clear liking for the region and peoples, provides good background to the main story. The build up with Britain and Russia sparring around each other over geo-political influence and extending power & favour to countries such as Persia is well told. This - the beginning of the "Great Game* - is interesting as we come across characters and e
Abubakar Mehdi
Sep 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a fine, fine book. Dalrymple understands the tribal and cultural intricacies that elude most western historian writing about Afghanistan or the sub-continent. The story is a rather simple one, The British, obsessed with the idea of expanding their imperial control to the whole of world, invaded Afghanistan to reinstall a puppet regime. It didn’t end well.

The story begins with the power struggle between two powerful tribes. The Sadozais, the descendants of Ahmed Shah Abdali, the ruler and
Ranjeev Dubey
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Between a timeless subject, a world recounted in the raw, a skilled historian and a brilliant writer, what can you get but a book you can't put down...all 2000 grams of it!

I don't do 600 page hardbacks for the love of my aging wrists, and I don't do 600 page hardbacks when I've already read three previous versions of the same story (Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game" and "On Secret Service", James Perry's "Arrogant Armies" and of course, J.A.Norris's "The First Afgan War" to say nothing about TV
Petra Eggs
Jun 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Interesting background to the present situation. It's the same tribes still fighting the same enemies. It was a good history but only an average read. 3.5 stars.

Does this sound familiar? Afghanistan is invaded by the army of a superpower keen to reinforce its power and prestige within the region. An easy victory is achieved, a puppet ruler is installed and at first things seem to go relatively well. However, resistance to the occupation force grows over time. Serious and humiliating defeats are suffered and the occupier eventually withdraws.

This could describe the past thirteen years of Afghan history following the invasion by coalition forces in 2001.
Akash Nair
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nf-history, favorites
The timing of the book is impeccable.Impeccable because there are a lot of similarities between what is Afghanistan now and what it was then.The book describes the history of Afghanistan from 1839-1842.
The similarities..
World's super-power : Then Britain , now USA.
The reasons for the battle for Afghanistan are also similar.The Brits wanted to secure India's borders and feared(wrongly) Russian influence in the region.The present situation has arised from what was a cold war skirmish between USSR
I have read a lot of Dalrymple's books - most before I reviewed on GR, and have enjoyed them. There is no risk of criticism of his research, as it is always thorough, and in depth. This is even more the case here, in this great tome of a book.

Here Dalrymple presents a tale of such incompetency, ego and mismanagement that he really needed to be accurate to avoid any backlash. Auckland and Macnaghten in particular are shown to make decisions against advice, to the point where reports are simply la
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
William Dalrymple is the definitive modern historian of the East India company's reign in India during the 18th and 19th centuries. With already two brilliant books – 'The White Mughals' and 'The Last Mughal' – on the subject, he has now written this masterly chronicle on the disastrous British misadventure in Afghanistan during the years 1839-1842. In his words, this first British war in Afghanistan was one of colonial arrogance, hubris, folly and cultural collision. What else can you call a fo ...more
Christopher Saunders
Jun 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Peerless account of the First Anglo-Afghan War, besting extant volumes by Patrick Macrory and Peter Hopkirk. Dalrymple presents fresh primary research, tapping Afghan, Indian and Russian archives to provide a more rounded portrait. Dalrymple counterpoints the Anglo-Russian "Great Game" with ongoing Afghan tribal rivalries. Ousted Shah Shujah manipulates the British into placing him on the Afghan throne, as more compliant than the cagey Dost Mohammed. Dalrymple fleshes out the familiar story of E ...more
Jun 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asia, history, britain
This is the second Dalrymple book I have read in a short space of time. With that I now consider that he is a extraordinarily good writer. He has had the ability to enthral, enrage and leave me wanting for more with each read. With that I have grabbed a couple more of his tomes and will be looking forward to reading them.

Return Of a King is riveting narrative history. In fact lets just say that in my opinion, narrative history that is as good as it gets. There is no need to tell the story here,
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: afghanistan, history
This is the story of one of Britain's greatest military defeats,the First Anglo-Afghan War of the nineteenth century.Afghanistan has never been an easy place for foreign invaders to occupy or govern as one invader after another has discovered.There are striking parallels to the Soviet and US invasions of Afghanistan.Dalrymple tells a good story and there are some memorable characters who live on in Afghan folklore to this day.
Rick Slane
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before I read this book I was wondering why the U.S. still had troops in Afghanistan. The people of this country hate having foreign soldiers in their country. Their presence probably strengthens the Taliban more than it weakens them because at least they are natives and Muslim. Some Afghans believe that the Chinese will occupy their country after the Americans leave.
Rajendra Dave
Mar 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The tale, very gory and very sordid is told in a very readable manner. Therein lies genius of its author.

Though the time span of the story is extremely short for a history- hardly a decade- the spatial canvas is sizable; spanning from Bhuj to Bukhara and Ludhiana to Herat and beyond in Persia. That covers at least five present-day nations. Casual manner in which movement of various persons - Indian, British, Afghans and Russians across this vast landscape is described makes one wonder whether o
Apr 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is the story of the first 19th century British invasion of Afghanistan. It is the work of a fastidious historian, but it is as gripping as any novel. And always behind the story are the uncanny parallels between that invasion and the present one still in progress. You finish this book understanding very well all that is now playing out and its likely outcome. Very little of significance has changed in a century and a half. Like America and its present allies, the British for strategic reaso ...more
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the west, it is called the First Afghan War; one supposes because it was the West's first modern encroachment into Afghanistan, and to distinguish it from subsequent encroachments.

For me, the best aspect of this book was what seemed to be the even-handed way in which it presented the perspectives of the various British factions and the Afghani factions.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
FRom BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
William Dalrymple analyses the first Afghan war, 1839-1842. Read by Tim Pigott-Smith
Sash Chiesa
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Though much has been written about Afghanistan over the years, not much has been understood. This book, based on the first Anglo-afghan war is a classic example of how we fail to learn anything at all from history, sometimes even the most obvious lessons, and how ignorance and egotism have crippled, failed & backfired the engagement plans of West with Muslim or Islamic nations culminating into a continuous web of errors. With this book Dalrymple has brought forth Afghanistan as a country -wi ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Superb account of the British invasion of Afghanistan in 1839 and the subsequent revolt in 1841 which led to a disastrous retreat in which most of the army and accompanying civilians and administrators were wiped out. The author draws parallels with the situation in the present decade and the omens are not good. Dalrymple has the ability to explain complicated agreements, rivalries and geographies in a clear manner. What might have been a dry account becomes a stylish account full of fascinating ...more
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I remember reading City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi many years back. It was interesting but it wasn't particularly racy. The trouble was that it was rooted in space with excursions to different places and then back to different points in time. It didn't have a flow.

Return of a King is much different in that it chronicles the events over a few years - when the British invaded Afghanistan, retreated, got slaughtered and then attacked again just to show their might before heading back. The story sta
Sagheer Afzal
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Another masterly tome by Dalrymple who definitely has a novelists flair for narration. What makes Dalrymple a master of his genre is that he understands that history is best realised through people, and in this book, he shows the depredations of British Imperialism.

A couple of points of interest about this book.

1) When coming to the last 100 pages of this book I was struck by the similarity between today's would be jihadists and the Afghan fighters who successfully routed the British Army. Hav
I always forget how much I like Dalrymple as a writer, until I read him again. There is this energy in the way he writes, a sort of louche style but happy to be there. Like that older colonial who has lived in India for years, walks around in a scarlet (because its always scarlet) dressing gown with a good bourdeaux (its always French) always at hand. He knows his stuff, will never be promoted, what's that horrible old phrase, he's gone native? But will never leave because he is too cynical, bem ...more
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another outstanding book by Dalrymple. This is an account of the 1839 invasion of Afghanistan in all its inglorious detail. Some startling parallels between then and now particularly in terms of British ignorance of the country and its social and political customs. You sense the British rectified this later in the 19th century, but had forgotten it all again by 2001 (the Afghans didn‘t forget the British, however, and some genuinely believed they returned to Helmand in the 21st century to avenge ...more
Doreen Petersen
Not a bad book. Good for understanding the early history of Afghanistan.
Aug 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book is a terrifically told story of the ultimate culture clash between northern Europe and central Asia, imperial armies vs. tribal chieftans, and the intel people on the ground who are unheeded by the administrators at the top.

This is an extremely compelling book, but I must admit that I struggled with it due to its density (an expansive and well-balanced view of the British, Durrani and Sikh Empires, with further emphases on the people who provided primary accounts of these events). I re
There is no greater international problem today than what is going on in Central Asia, particularly in Afghanistan. But Mr. Dalrymple's fabulous book points out that Afghanistan has been a problem for the West for quite a while now in this history of the first invasion of Afghanistan by Britain in 1839. Through fabulous prose and citations from witnesses on both sides of the conflict, including epic poems written by the Afghans themselves, Mr. Dalrymple draws parallels between this war and today ...more
Jan 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Return of a King.

Before I read this book I had no clue what Afghanistan was in the past. I had no clue who Alexander Burnes was, nor did I know who Dost Mohammed or Shah Shuja was. I had no idea about anyone called Fighting Bob, no idea about Akbar Khan, and absolutely no clue about William Macnaghten. 500 pages later, I am starting to find remnants of these people in the people I know today, I am starting to learn how these people found hope, I am starting to realize how the world has changed w
Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A riveting, comprehensive history of the first Anglo-Afghan war.

In a straightforward narrative, Dalrymple describes the British paranoia about supposed Russian threats to India, which existed only in the minds of London and pretty much created a crisis out of nothing. He also describes the general ignorance of the region by the government in India, the course of the British occupation, and the eventual retreat. Dalrymple easily describes the nuances of Afghan tribal politics and how both the Bri
Feb 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
William Dalrymple opens up and makes accessible an entire section of history that is the stuff of legends and poetry. The first British invasion of Afghanistan was a adventure that the British Empire walked into with an astonishing arrogance fuelled by their belief that they were somehow invincible.

The book tells the story of Shah Shuja, his exile from Afghanistan and the subsequent British attempts to restore him to the throne occupied by his rival Dost Muhammed. The British motivation for this
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Dalrymple writes fascinating books. 1 18 Feb 03, 2013 08:35PM  

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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize.

In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six years
“The first Embassy to Afghanistan by a western power left the Company's Delhi Residency on 13 October 1808, with the Ambassador accompanied by 200 calvary, 4,000 infantry, a dozen elephants and no fewer than 600 camels. It was dazzling, but it was also clear from this attempt to reach out to the Afghans that the British were not interested in cultivating Shah Shuja's friendship for its own sake, but were concerned only to outflank their imperial rivals: the Afghans were perceived as mere pawns on the chessboard of western diplomacy, to be engaged or sacrificed at will. It was a precedent that was to be followed many other times, by several different powers, over the years and decades to come; and each time the Afghans would show themselves capable of defending their inhospitable terrain far more effectively than any of their would-be manipulators could possibly have suspected.” 3 likes
“the Afghans were perceived as mere pawns on the chessboard of western diplomacy, to be engaged or sacrificed at will. It was a precedent that was to be followed many other times, by several different powers, over the years and decades to come; and each time the Afghans would show themselves capable of defending their inhospitable terrain far more effectively than any of their would-be manipulators could possibly have suspected. It” 1 likes
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