The Great Game

The Great Game : On Secret Service in High Asia

4.3 (4,044 ratings by Goodreads)
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Description

The "Great Game" was an imperial, political, diplomatic, and military enterprise in which intrepid individuals played for high stakes in a struggle that stretched from the Causasus in the West to Chinese Turkestan and Tibet in the East. The prize was British India. When play first began, the frontiers of Russia and India lay some 2000 miles apart; by the end, the gap had reduced in some places to just 20 miles. Officers on either side, disguised as holy men and horse traders, or advancing in full uniform, delighted in the play as they sought to learn enemy positions, befriend powerful khans, or discover vital secrets. This book should appeal to those interested in espionage and diplomacy, the history of "High Asia" in Victorian period and superpower relations.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 576 pages
  • 130 x 192 x 34mm | 399.16g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 8 pp black and white plates, 5 maps, bibliography
  • 0192827995
  • 9780192827999

Table of contents

Part 1 The beginnings: the yellow peril; Napoleonic nightmare; rehearsal for the great game; the Russian boy; all roads lead to India; the first of the Russian players; death on the Oxus; the barometer falls. Part 2 The middle years: "the Great Game"; enter "Bokhara" Burnes; the greatest fortress in the world; the mysterious Vitkevich; hero of Herat; the kingmakers; the race for Khiva; the freeing of the slaves; night of the long knives; catastrophe; massacre in the passes; the last hours of Connolly and Stoddart; half-time. Part 3 The climatic years: the great Russian advance begins; lion of Tashkent; spies along the silk road; the feel of cold steel across his throat; "a physician from the North"; Captain Burnaby's ride to Bala Hissar; the last strand of the Turcomans; to the brink of war; the railway race to the East; where three empires meet; flashpoint in the High Pamirs; the race for Chitral; the beginning of the end; end-game.show more

Review Text

What in the hands of a lesser writer could have been a collection of obscure facts, figures, and personalities is here transformed - thanks to vibrant writing and remarkable organization - into a riveting drama of 19th-century imperialistic power-politics. Tracing the British and Russian rivalry for control of the deserts and mountain ranges that stretch from the Black Sea to the China Sea, Hopkirk, fomer Asian affairs specialist for the London Times, packs his narrative with enough death, double-dealing, and derring-do to keep a TV miniseries surging along for months. The author picks up the story at the dawn of the 1800's, after having briefly sketched in such background details as Peter the Great's purported deathbed instructions to expand the tsarist empire, and Napoleon's Egyptian campaign - both of which the English saw as threats to their hegemony in the Indian subcontinent. For more than a century, Russia and England each scored triumphs and suffered setbacks, much to the despair or delight of the rival nation. Here, the action takes place in a cloak-and-dagger atmosphere of disguised pseudotravelers gathering information about barbarous (and largely unexplored) hinterlands. Hopkirk's accounts of incursions into such exotic locales as Samarkand, Bokhara, and Lhasa are among the most exciting in his fast-paced work, with many of the adventurers he describes meeting their Maker in singularly unpleasant ways - through beheading, dismemberment, garrotting. Hopkirk maintains the suspense with assurance, and also is evenhanded in his treatment of the duplicity that marks the activities not only of the area's Muslim natives but of the Russians and English as well. Working on a sprawling canvas crammed with incidents set in council chambers and Himalayan mountain passes, and with a cast that includes Queen Victoria, tsars, trigger-happy militarists, fanatical khans, sepoys, and Sherpas, Hopkirk organizes his material with a master's touch. The result is historical writing of extraordinary power and readability. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

4,044 ratings
4.3 out of 5 stars
5 49% (1,977)
4 36% (1,458)
3 12% (499)
2 2% (74)
1 1% (36)
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