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The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia [Paperback]

Peter Hopkirk
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 15 1994 Kodansha Globe
The Great Game was the epic stand-off between the two superpowers of the nineteenth century--Victorian Britain and Czarist Russia--for the riches of India and the East. Based on meticulous scholarship and on-the-spot research, Peter Hopkirk's immensely readable account covers the history at the core of today's geopolitics. Photos and maps.

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In a phrase coined by Captain Arthur Connolly of the East India Company before he was beheaded in Bokhara for spying in 1842, a "Great Game" was played between Tsarist Russia and Victorian England for supremacy in Central Asia. At stake was the security of India, key to the wealth of the British Empire. When play began early in the 19th century, the frontiers of the two imperial powers lay two thousand miles apart, across vast deserts and almost impassable mountain ranges; by the end, only 20 miles separated the two rivals.

Peter Hopkirk, a former reporter for The Times of London with wide experience of the region, tells an extraordinary story of ambition, intrigue, and military adventure. His sensational narrative moves at breakneck pace, yet even as he paints his colorful characters--tribal chieftains, generals, spies, Queen Victoria herself--he skillfully provides a clear overview of the geographical and diplomatic framework. The Great Game was Russia's version of America's "Manifest Destiny" to dominate a continent, and Hopkirk is careful to explain Russian viewpoints as fully as those of the British. The story ends with the fall of Tsarist Russia in 1917, but the demise of the Soviet Empire (hastened by a decade of bloody fighting in Afghanistan) gives it new relevance, as world peace and stability are again threatened by tensions in this volatile region of great mineral wealth and strategic significance. --John Stevenson

From Publishers Weekly

Chronicles the imperial struggle for power in Central Asia between Victorian England and Czarist Russia.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Story July 6 2004
If you like history told on a grand scale, you'll love Peter Hopkirk's "The Great Game." The author has done a superb job making an obscure epoch of nineteenth history come to life in an easily accessible and immensely entertaining narrative. Employing a style and approach highly reminiscent of such bestsellers as David Fromkin's "A Peace to End All Peace" or Robert Massie's "Dreadnought," Hopkirk uses a number of harrowing expeditions by young, intrepid (and mostly British) army officers and diplomats to convey the drama, intrigue and danger of the imperial contest that Rudyard Kipling christened "The Great Game."
A quick word of caution: this book isn't really a primer on current events in Afghanistan and the surrounding areas. I mention that because there are some exerts to that effect on the cover of the new paperback and I suspect that angle has been pushed by the publishers to promote sales. Yes, there are some graphic tales of western forces being mutilated by Muslim mobs incited by the harangues of mullahs in Kabul and other now familiar cities, but that is where the potential similarities end. In short, this is a book about nineteenth century imperial competition; Islam in general and Afghanistan in particular are elements of that story, not the focus. It is told primarily from the British perspective and focuses on their century-long cold war with imperial Russia. The borders of their global empires became, in London's opinion, uncomfortable close in the mid-1800s as Moscow's borders expanded inexorably southwards in search of new economic markets and trade routes until they encroached upon the mountain passes to northern India, thus threatening the "crown jewel" of the British Empire.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Overview June 8 2004
My brother introduced this book to me 5 years ago, but its size intimidated me, so I put it aside. Big mistake. I finally started reading it and found it completely intriguing. I had NO idea of any of the history of Russian expansionism into Central Asia. Zip. Zilch. It's a tragedy that this topic is not covered in American high school curriculums. Our teachers and professors blathered on about the cold war, but I had no idea of how Russia and the Soviet Union came to be what they were/are in the 20th and 21st centuries. I would have appreciated a better background on Russian and Soviet acquisitions of surrounding territories. This book provides all that and more in a very readable, summary fashion, as a tale told around individual historic figures. Very entertaining and hard to put down.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Its a good book, but... Dec 24 2002
It being far easier to find fault than to praise and yours sincerely born lazy, I will tell you all that is wrong with this book. (many others before me have told you all that is right with it, i will skip that part entirely)
Agreed, the subject matter sometimes is dull and needs a dash of drama to make it come to life. In that, PH (author) sometimes shows himself a better historian than novelist. There are many places in which after describing what is a climactic incident, in the last sentence of the paragraph, he will give away what is to happen in the coming chapters. its like a friend telling you the ending of a christie novel - where's the fun in reading it after that?
the book screams for more maps - small half page affairs inserted in the right places so that the reader knows what part of the world he/she is in - i am from india, a place not far removed from the scenes that this "game" unfolds in, and i often found myself lost geographically. to another person for whom this is just another remote corner of the world, it can be oh so confusing. and the one small map at the front does little to make up for this gaping omission.
ph tells his story from a decidely british perspective. the british are always brave, commendable and if ever proven wrong, only so because of the deceit of the untrustworthy russians or the double crossing tribals. british mistakes are either overlooked entirely or condoned without question. if you are not from britian (or america for that matter), the holier than thou attitude of the british can be poignantly ubiquitous in the book. of course, i don't know if this is justified criticism of the narrative for that is probably very close to the truth of those days.
read the book, yes - but only for want of something better and more balanced in perspective and outlook.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Such tragic writing. Dec 12 2002
Central Asia is an undeniably fascinating place. The histories of the countries are the stuff of fairy tales, and one has to wonder why more movies haven't been made about them, since they're really riveting in anecdotal form.
I've taken a lot of classes on the area, and did my thesis research in Uzbekistan. As a person who's read quite a bit about these places, I can say that The Great Game follows a tragic trend in Central Asian writing: people who study the place in depth, for some reason, are incapable of communicating the information without sucking the life out of it.
I found the writing in The Great Game to be deplorable. The prose is riddled with cliches and trite expressions, and the style, which I suppose was meant to be 'easy reading,' is in fact stifling in it's simplicity: it feels like there are few sentences over five words long, and the simple prose makes the book an intensely boring read, despite the fact that it's covering fascinating people and events.
Maybe it was just me, but I felt like the author was talking down to me throughout the book. I say 'throughout the book,' but I never managed to finish it. The author lost my interest quickly and never managed to regain it, largely because of his incredibly poor form.
I'm still looking for the ideal book on Central Asia to recommend to people, so they can understand why I'm so in love with the region. Tragically, this book is absolutely not it.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Kashistan
I am fascinated by this country in central Asia. It was an unknown place to me and yet its where many of our plants came from and its where very early man settled
Published 13 months ago by JOANWW
5.0 out of 5 stars The Great Game, a used book
ordering a used book, once again the book came through in great shape just as ordered. It takes a few weeks; however, that is much better than not being able to get the book at... Read more
Published on Sept. 17 2012 by T. Tisch
4.0 out of 5 stars A History gone novel
The Hopkirk writings on the Great Game are simply a classic. The whole book is an amazing read, and in general leaves with the impression of a great a glamorous story. Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2011 by Miliatasana
5.0 out of 5 stars Filling a gap in world history
This books fills a gap in world history. All have heard of Marco Polo and most of Dgengiz Khan; some might know about the Russian advances towards India into Central Asia and might... Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2004 by M. M. A. Lensvelt
2.0 out of 5 stars Wandering Through Central Asia
I think I may be intrigued by central Asia because of its vast emptiness. In sculptural terms, it is the negative space that defines the cities and countries which surround it. Read more
Published on Oct. 20 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Incorrect facts. I refuse to buy this book.
I have read the excerpt and concluded that this book is based on erroneous facts about the Mongol domination in Russia. The name of the Mongol Khan in 1480 was not Ahmed Khan. Read more
Published on Aug. 8 2003 by Ulan Asanov
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and Fun Introduction
This is a really fun book, and the author does a good job of explaining geopolitical tensions while also narrating some pretty exciting adventures. Read more
Published on Jan. 22 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars History being a guide to the present
The Great Game puts the present events in perspective and once again confirms why I love to read history when I crave a good tale. Read more
Published on Dec 31 2002 by GeorgeDockray
5.0 out of 5 stars A must for understanding Central Asia
Indeed, it is a must to understand the current situation in and around Central Asia, including Afghanistan. Read more
Published on Sept. 27 2002 by Candan Azer
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