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

An intensively focused study of the ill-begotten launch of the Great Game in Afghanistan. 

Who would gain control of the portal to India: Britain, France, Russia, the Sikhs or the Afghan tribes themselves? And was there really cause for alarm at imperialist advances or a “dysfunctional” intelligence gathering by both the British and Russians? In his exciting, exhaustive study, British historian Dalrymple (The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, 2007, etc.) sheds light on the enormously convoluted rationale for the First Anglo-Afghan War, ostensibly provoked by Britain in order to reinstall the compliant Shah Shuja ul Mulk (chief of the Sadozai clan) to power in Afghanistan over Dost Mohammad Khan (chief of the Barakzais), who supposedly favored the Russians. In truth, the war exposed the greediness and ignorance of all sides: protecting the interests of the East India Company and catering to the competing ambitions of major players like Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh, Polish agent Ivan Vitkevitch, William Hay Macnaghten and Scottish agent Alexander Burnes. The British garrison was soon outnumbered 10-1 by the rebel forces of Akbar Khan, Dost Mohammad’s able, ferocious son; forced to surrender and retreat in ignominy back to India, the British left Shuja to fall to Dost’s assassins in April 1842 and gained virtually nothing save a more defined border. Dalrymple sagely points out that while the Afghans learned a valuable lesson from this early conflict, namely a firm rejection of foreign rule and a sense of nationalist integrity, the Western powers did not and, indeed, still perpetuate a policy of folly and waste.

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

Pub Date: April 16, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-307-95828-0

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2013

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Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

Entertaining, masterful disquisition on the aims, limitations, design, and methods of historiography.

Gaddis (Military and Naval History/Yale; We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, 1997) adapts the lectures he gave at Oxford while its George Eastman Visiting Professor (2000–01). Employing a wide range of metaphors (from Cleopatra’s nose to Napoleon’s underwear), displaying an extensive knowledge of current thinking in mathematics, physics, and evolutionary biology, alluding frequently to figures as disparate as Lee Harvey Oswald, Gwyneth Paltrow, John Lennon, and John Malkovich, Gaddis guides us on a genial trip into the historical method and the imagination that informs it. He begins by showing the relationship between a cartographer and a historian, asserting that the latter must “interpret the past for the purposes of the present with a view to managing the future.” He also takes us through a set of principles he believes historians must employ and reminds us that the imagination of the historian must always be tethered to reliable sources. He takes on social scientists (especially economists), observing that as they attempt to become more “scientific” (establishing laws, making accurate predictions), they move in the opposite direction of today’s “hard” scientists: “When social scientists are right, they too often confirm the obvious.” Gaddis moves to a discussion of variables (declaring irrelevant the distinction between “independent” and “dependent”: “interdependent,” he says, is the more accurate term), examines chaos theory and explores theories of causation. He ends with an intriguing discussion of the role of the biographer, insisting that historians retain a moral view of events, and with a reminder that they must necessarily distort even as they clarify. Historians, like teachers, he says, both oppress and liberate.

Provocative, polymathic, pleasurable. (Illustrations throughout)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-19-506652-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons...

If corruption is what you want, put someone with strong ties to the oil industry in the White House.

So we learn from business journalist McCartney (Across the Great Divide: Robert Stuart and the Discovery of the Oregon Trail, 2004, etc.) in this lucid account of the Teapot Dome scandal. At its root was Warren G. Harding, the Ohio senator who was a 40-1 shot to gain the Republican nomination for the presidency for 1920 until he secured the backing of Jake Hamon, Harry F. Sinclair, Edward Doheny and other oil titans. The trade-off was that Hamon was to become secretary of the interior and be given control of the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming, “an oil supply potentially worth several hundred million dollars—1920 dollars—a bonanza so rich that it was almost beyond comprehension.” Hamon’s wife shot and killed him before the deal could go through, but before he died Hamon sent a sealed note to Harding with orders to “get some of his friends taken care of.” The oilmen got their way with a longtime New Mexico senator named Albert Fall, hard-drinking and murderous, who had fallen on hard times and seemed in danger of losing his huge ranch holdings. No sooner was Fall installed than his money problems disappeared, the dollars flowing into his bank accounts and those of other prominent Republicans as the oil flowed out of Teapot Dome. By way of thanks, Sinclair gained access to two million barrels of public-domain oil per year, on which Harding signed off in a letter to Fall: “I am confident you have adopted the correct policy and will carry it through in a way altogether to be approved.” Of course, when all this backdoor dealing was exposed, approval was not forthcoming. Sinclair thundered that he was too rich to be jailed. He was wrong, but many others walked.

A probing study of a scandal that spread even deeper than the standard histories claim—and one that has plenty of lessons for today.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6316-1

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2007

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