Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42

Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42 (Paperback)

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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 the Author


William Dalrymple is the author of seven previous 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; From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s Wolfson History Prize; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. He is a contributor to The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker. He divides his time between New Delhi and London.

Praise for Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42…


Praise for William Dalrymple’s Return of a King
 
“Brilliant. . . . The fullest and most powerful description of the West’s first encounter with Afghan society.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Magnificent. . . . [Dalrymple’s] histories read like novels. . . . This latest book delights and shocks.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Masterful. . . . Dalrymple makes an important contribution by including recently discovered Afghan accounts of the war.” —The Washington Post
 
“At once deeply researched and beautifully paced, Return of a King should win every prize for which it’s eligible.” —Bookforum

“With skill and deep humanity, Dalrymple seeks contemporary lessons in Britain’s disastrous nineteenth-century invasion.” —The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)

“A serious work of history that expands our understanding of the war of 1839-42 by drawing on sources found in Russia, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, many never before translated into English.” —Newsday

“Arguably the most important work in Dalrymple's impressive oeuvre. . . . If context is important, reading Dalrymple is paramount.” —The Sunday Guardian (London)

“A masterful history. . . . And as the latest occupying force in Afghanistan negotiates its exit, this chronicle seems all too relevant now.” —The Economist

“In Return of a King, Dalrymple has done again what he did magnificently for two other telling episodes of British imperial history in White Mughals (2002) and The Last Mughal (2006). . . . Dalrymple has a narrative gift.” —The Huffington Post

“A thrilling, amusing and educational three-track tour de force, relevant to today and even the immediate future.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Definitive. . . . Return of a King is not just a riveting account of one imperial disaster on the roof of the world; it teaches unforgettable lessons about the perils of neocolonial adventures everywhere.” —Literary Review

“A major contribution to the historiography of south-west Asia and of the British empire. . . . Return of a King will come to be seen as the definitive account of the first and most disastrous western attempt to invade Afghanistan.” —New Statesman

“Complex and remarkable. . . . As taut and richly embroidered as a great novel. . . . This book is a masterpiece of nuanced writing and research, and a thrilling account of a watershed Victorian conflict.” —The Sunday Telegraph (London)

“[Dalrymple] is a master storyteller, whose special gift lies in the use of indigenous sources, so often neglected by imperial chroniclers. . . . Almost every page of Dalrymple’s splendid narrative echoes with latter-day reverberations.” —The Sunday Times (London)

“Few writers could go wrong with a story populated with so many villains, rogues, poltroons, swashbucklers, spies, assassins and heroes. But none would make a better job of it than William Dalrymple in this thrilling, magnificently evocative Return of a King.” —Mail on Sunday (London)

“Marvelous. . . . Brilliant, exact language. . . . There is much in Dalrymple’s superb book that has contemporary resonance.” —Sunday Herald

“Shows all the elements we have come to expect from Dalrymple: the clear, fluid prose, the ability to give complex historical events shape, story and meaning, the use of new local sources to allow the voices of the people . . . to be heard alongside the much-better documented accounts of the invaders. . . . This is clear-eyed, non-judgmental, sober history, beautifully told.” —The Observer (London)

“Sensationally good. . . . Dalrymple writes the kind of history that few historians can match.” —The Scotsman

“An absorbing and beautifully written account of a doomed effort to control an apparently uncontrollably population. . . . A saga that makes for marvelous storytelling, filled with heroes, knaves, incompetent fools, and savage, bloodthirsty warriors. It has been told often before but perhaps never so well as by Dalrymple.” —Booklist (starred)

Product Details ISBN-10: 0307948536
ISBN-13: 9780307948533
Published: Vintage
Pages: 560
Language: English