The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia
By Peter Hopkirk
Published by Oxford University Press - 2001
For nearly a century the two most powerful nations on earth - Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia - fought a secret war in the lonely passes and deserts of Central Asia. Those engaged in this shadowy struggle called it 'The Great Game', a phrase immortalized in Kipling's Kim. When play first began the two rival empires lay nearly 2,000 miles apart. By the end, some Russian outposts were within 20 miles of India. This book tells the story of the Great Game through the exploits of theyoung officers, both British and Russian, who risked their lives playing it. Disguised as holy men or native horsetraders, they mapped secret passes, gathered intelligence, and sought the allegiance of powerful khans. Some never returned.
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Book Review by Dick Roraback:
The British called it the Great Game. So did the Russians ( Bolshaya Igra). The ultimate prize was India. Britain had it. Russia wanted it--or so the British feared; something about a secret deathbed command by Peter the Great to his heirs, which may or may not have been given.
The playing field was Central Asia, from the Caspian Sea all the way to Manchu China. In between were some of the most exotic places on the map, or off, places whose existence often was little more than an educated guess, whose names tantalized the tongue and charged the blood:
Urumshi and Turfan, Hami and Osh; the Hindu Kush and the River Ili; the Sacred Mountain of Kailas; Ghazni and Gor; Red Idol Gorge; the Minaret of Death . . .
It was a "vast political no-man's land," writes Peter Hopkirk in this slam-bang study. Through the planet's highest mountain passes and least-forgiving deserts tramped a host of players: ambitious young officers, rapacious traders, flat-out adventurers bound for glory or the gallows, whichever came first.