The Dark Defile by Diana Preston
Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842

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"The consequences of crossing the Indus once to settle a government in Afghanistan will be a perennial march into that country."--The Duke of Wellington, 1838 "There is nothing more to be dreaded or guarded against in our endeavor to re-establish the Afghan monarchy than the overweening confidence with which Europeans are too often accustomed to regard the excellence of their own institutions and the anxiety that they display to introduce them in new and untried soils."--Claude Wade, January 1839. Convinced in 1839 that Britain's invaluable empire in India was threatened by Russia, Persia, and Afghan tribes, the British government ordered its Army of the Indus into Afghanistan to oust from power the independent-minded king Dost Mohammed and install in Kabul the unpopular puppet ruler Shah Shuja. Expecting a quick campaign, the British found themselves trapped by unforeseen circumstances; eventually the tribes united and the seemingly omnipotent army was slaughtered in 1842 as it desperately retreated through the mountain passes from Kabul to Jalalabad. Only one man survived. Diana Preston vividly recounts the drama of this First Afghan War, the opening salvo in the strategic rivalry between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia. As insightful about geography as she is about political and military miscalculation, Preston draws on rarely documented letters and diaries to bring alive long lost characters--Lord Auckland, the weak British Governor-General in India; his impetuous aide William McNaghten; the prescient adventurer-envoy Alexander Burnes, whose sage advice was steadfastly ignored. A model of compelling narrative history, The First Afghan War is a cautionary tale that resonates loudly today.

About Diana Preston

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Born and raised in London, Diana Preston studied Modern History at Oxford University, where she first became involved in journalism. After earning her degree, she became a freelance writer of feature and travel articles for national UK newspapers and magazines and has subsequently reviewed books for a number of publications, including The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. She has also been a broadcaster for the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and has been featured in various television documentaries. Eight years ago, her decision to write "popular" history led her to The Road to Culloden Moor: Bonnie Prince Charlie and the '45 Rebellion (Constable UK, 1995). It was followed by A First Rate Tragedy: Robert Falcon Scott and the Race to the South Pole (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), The Boxer Rebellion (Walker & Company, 2000), and now, Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy (Walker & Company, 2002).  In choosing her topics, Preston looks for stories and events which are both compelling in their own right and also help readers gain a wider understanding of the past. She is fascinated by the human experience-what motivates people to think and act as they doÐand the individual stories that comprise the larger historical picture. Preston spent over two years researching Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy. She did a remarkable amount of original research for the book, and is the first author to make full use of the German archives and newly discovered papers that illuminate both the human tragedy and subsequent plots to cover up what really happened. Preston traveled to all the key locations of the tragedy, experiencing firsthand how cold the water off the Irish coast near Cobh would have been in early May when the Lusitania sank, and how eerie it was to stand inside what remains of the U-20 (now at the Strandingsmuseum in West Jutland, Denmark) where the U-boat captain watched the Lusitania through his periscope and gave the order to fire. Of the many artifacts she reviewed, it was her extensive reading of the diaries and memoirs of survivors that had the biggest impact on her. The experience of looking at photographs and touching the scraps of clothing of both survivors and those who died when the Lusitania sank provided her with chilling pictures: The heartbreaking image of a young girl whose sister's hand slipped away from her was one that kept Preston up at night. When not writing, Preston is an avid traveler with her husband, Michael. Together, they have sojourned throughout India, Asia, Africa, and Antarctica, and have climbed Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and Mount Roraima in Venezuela. Their adventures have also included gorilla-tracking in Zaire and camping their way across the Namibian desert. Diana and Michael Preston are currently working on a biography of the 17th-century British explorer, naturalist, scientist, pirate and buccaneer William Dampier, which is forthcoming from Walker & Company. They live in London, England.
Published February 21, 2012 by Walker Books. 320 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War. Non-fiction

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The bewildered British withdrew by 1842, concluding “a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, and brought to a close, after suffering and disaster, without much glory attaching either to the government which directed, or the great body of the tr...

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Publishers Weekly

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that an army of well-trained, well-armed British troops could be wiped out by tribesmen with only muskets and spears.” Relying heavily on the personal diaries, correspondence, and official papers of the doomed British force, Preston grippingly illustrates the dangers of committing a nation to f...

Nov 14 2011 | Read Full Review of The Dark Defile: Britain's Ca...

Washington Independent Review of Books

When the news of the destruction of the Army of the Indus reached Government House in Calcutta, Lord Auckland, the Governor-General of British India, was said to have torn out his hair in anguish.

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Bookmarks Magazine

As insightful about geography as she is about political and military miscalculation, Preston draws on rarely documented letters and diaries to bring alive long-lost characters-Lord Auckland, the weak British governor-general in India;

Mar 18 2012 | Read Full Review of The Dark Defile: Britain's Ca...

London Review of Books

After failing to gain the support of the emir, Dost Muhammad, the British decided to occupy Afghanistan, and in 1839 a force of British and Indian troops arrived in Kabul.

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