The Return of a King by William Dalrymple

79%

7 Critic Reviews

Few come out well from Mr. Dalrymple's magnificent account except perhaps the wily Dost Mohammad Khan, who returned to the throne that had been grabbed from him, as if the war had never taken place.
-WSJ online

Synopsis

From William Dalrymple—award-winning historian, journalist and travel writer—a masterly retelling of what was perhaps the West’s greatest imperial disaster in the East, and an important parable of neocolonial ambition, folly and hubris that has striking relevance to our own time.

With access to newly discovered primary sources from archives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia and India—including a series of previously untranslated Afghan epic poems and biographies—the author gives us the most immediate and comprehensive account yet of the spectacular first battle for Afghanistan: the British invasion of the remote kingdom in 1839. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed helmets, and facing little resistance, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the mountain passes from India into Afghanistan in order to reestablish Shah Shuja ul-Mulk on the throne, and as their puppet. But after little more than two years, the Afghans rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into rebellion. This First Anglo-Afghan War ended with an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world ambushed and destroyed in snowbound mountain passes by simply equipped Afghan tribesmen. Only one British man made it through.

But Dalrymple takes us beyond the bare outline of this infamous battle, and with penetrating, balanced insight illuminates the uncanny similarities between the West’s first disastrous entanglement with Afghanistan and the situation today. He delineates the straightforward facts: Shah Shuja and President Hamid Karzai share the same tribal heritage; the Shah’s principal opponents were the Ghilzai tribe, who today make up the bulk of the Taliban’s foot soldiers; the same cities garrisoned by the British are today garrisoned by foreign troops, attacked from the same rings of hills and high passes from which the British faced attack. Dalryrmple also makes clear the byzantine complexity of Afghanistan’s age-old tribal rivalries, the stranglehold they have on the politics of the nation and the ways in which they ensnared both the British in the nineteenth century and NATO forces in the twenty-first.

Informed by the author’s decades-long firsthand knowledge of Afghanistan, and superbly shaped by his hallmark gifts as a narrative historian and his singular eye for the evocation of place and culture, The Return of a King is both the definitive analysis of the First Anglo-Afghan War and a work of stunning topicality.

 

About William Dalrymple

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William Dalrymple is the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book award; the bestselling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain's most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and The Guardian.
 
Published April 16, 2013 by Vintage. 609 pages
Genres: History, Travel, War. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Return of a King
All: 7 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 1

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by John Darwin on May 24 2013

...a readable style, a deep humanity and, above all, an extraordinary skill in evoking the lost worlds of Mughals and Afghans.

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Guardian

Above average
Reviewed by Ian Thomson on Feb 02 2014

In swift-paced prose, Dalrymple chronicles Britain's first Afghan war (as it came to be known) through British, Afghan and Russian eyes.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Jason Burke on Jan 26 2013

This is clear-eyed, non-judgmental, sober history, beautifully told. Of Dalrymple's recent works, Return of a King is perhaps the most directly relevant to the present day.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Diana Athill on Jan 23 2013

The seductive artistry of Dalrymple's narrative gift draws the reader into events that are sometimes almost unbearable, but his account is so perceptive and so warmly humane that one is never tempted to break away.

Read Full Review of The Return of a King | See more reviews from Guardian

WSJ online

Above average
Reviewed by Michael Fathers on Apr 12 2013

Few come out well from Mr. Dalrymple's magnificent account except perhaps the wily Dost Mohammad Khan, who returned to the throne that had been grabbed from him, as if the war had never taken place.

Read Full Review of The Return of a King | See more reviews from WSJ online

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 10 2013

A rich excavation of both British and Afghan sources, with gorgeous colored reproductions of Muslim and romantic renderings of the action and characters.

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The Economist

Good
on Jan 26 2013

Mr Dalrymple’s book is a timely reminder of the way that wars can begin with promise but end in disgrace.

Read Full Review of The Return of a King | See more reviews from The Economist

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