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Book reviews for "Hopkirk,_Peter" sorted by average review score:

My Life As an Explorer: The Great Adventurer's Classic Memoir (Kodansha Globe)
Published in Paperback by Kodansha International (1996)
Authors: Sven Anders Hedin, Alfhild Huebsch, Peter Hopkirk, and Philip Turner
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An Adventure Story Like No Other
This is a tale wonderfully told of an explorer's quest to fill in the blank spots on the map of Asia. Not only does Hedin present a clear and highly entertaining view of his travels, but he also gives us a portrait of his character. He shows us that he is a man with high goals and is undeterred in achieving those goals, even when all odds are against him. He shows us that he is also a very caring man, very much concerned about the welfare of his men and his animals. He also is a man that is awestruck by nature and is very concerned about not unduly intruding upon it or unnecessarily destroying it.

But most of all, this is an adventure story that is just plain fun to read.

A suggestion to readers who are not very familiar with the geography of central Asia would be to have on hand some good maps as the ones Hedin draws are quite limited and often fail to give the perspective that may be desireable.

The best travel book I have read too.
I concur with This book is exceptional. I could hardly put it down. You feel the excitement and intensity of his adventures, you begin to understand the force that drives him (and you respect him for it), and you meet the people and the places that make Turkestan and Tibet 100 years ago like no place that you could ever imagine.

The best journal of exploration I have ever read
Sven Hedin's "My Life as an Explorer" is an exceptional work. Stylistically situated somewhere in between scholarly works such as those by Aurel Stein and pure "adventure for its own sake" works such as those by Thesiger, Hedin's explorations are astounding and wonderful stories. His bravery and thirst for adventure are unmatched--he seems to have a total inability to turn back from his goals. Yet the goals are noble, and his methods meticulous and scholarly, so one is not left with the impression that he is simply a daredevil seeking thrills. He singlehandedly filled in, in a fairly detailed manner, one of the last white spaces of "terra incognita" on the map of the world.

At certain moments in the book, especially (in my opinion) the discussions of the Lama Rinpoche, who vows to remain walled inside his cave for his entire life, Hedin's narrative reaches the heights of great literature, placing his work, I believe, among the greatest travel or exploration writings ever produced.

Finding Your Guardian Spirit: The Secrets of Life After Death Revealed by Japan's Foremost Psychic
Published in Hardcover by Kodansha International (1993)
Authors: Aiko Gibo, Kirsten McIvor, Peter Hopkirk, and Eric Chaline
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Finding Your Guardian Spirit: The Secrets of Life After Deat
This is one of the best books that I have ever read in my life. Credit must be given to the translator, who did a superb job of translating it into simple English. Regardless of religion, the spiritual realm is one and the same and this book transcends all spiritual paths. I can only wish that more of Aiko Gibo's books can be translated. It is really a must-read for those who seeks the spiritual path.

I'd like to know Aiko Gibo.
Hai, I'm Noni, I'm Indonesian, I wrote this letter from Jakarta, Indonesia. I believe this book is extra good, I've read another book of her: Finding Your guardian Spirit, Indonesian translated. I'd like to know Mrs. Gibo. Is there anybody could help me how to find her? May be from the Amazon? This is very important to me, cause I want to know more about Guardian Spirit. Please help me... Thank you.

Hunted Through Central Asia
Published in Paperback by Oxford University Press (1994)
Authors: Malcolm Burr, Pavel Nazaroff, and Peter Hopkirk
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On the run from the Soviets
This book, first published seventy years ago, is a harrowing account of the author's escape from the Soviet Cheka shortly after the Russian Revolution. He was the leader of a group of rebels in Turkestan, and as such was a much sought after prize for the Bolsheviks, who wanted to eliminate him and all other opponents of their regime. The story is told in such a low-key way, however, that often it becomes a mere travelogue rather than a tale of action. For all of that, the underlying terror comes through, and the danger and hardship which the author faced appears very real to the reader. In addition to the main story, this book is also full of geography, geology, zoology, botany and history. The author was certainly a well-rounded individual, in addition to being very, very brave. We don't see many heroes such as this man in our times, and it's rewarding to read that such people were more than wiling to risk everything to combat tyranny.

An amazingly good read
It is the story of a White Russian who was worked against the Bolshevik's during the Russian revolution. It provides chilling insight into the reign of terror but also fascinating information on life in Central Asia during the 1920's. Highly recommended

On Horseback Through Asia Minor
Published in Paperback by Oxford University Press (1996)
Authors: Fred Burnaby, Frederick Burnaby, and Peter Hopkirk
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Now this is real adventure travel!
Who in their right mind would voluntarily undertake an expedition on horseback thru Asia Minor in winter...Frederick Burnaby did in the year 1876, a time of intrigue in the Ottoman Empire and Russia where the forces that shaped WWI and 20th century alliances took root. This is an opportunity to travel back into time and traverse Asia Minor prior to the invention of the automobile. You will meet people from all classes and cultures; Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian, Persian and more. Burnaby tells of his trip with dry humor and with a suprisingly enlightened view of women, considering the times. This is a good read and worth the price of the book. For adventure travelers with time and money on their hands, retracing Burnaby's route on horseback would be a challenge even today.

Trespassers on the Roof of the World: The Secret Exploration of Tibet
Published in Hardcover by J. P. Tarcher (1983)
Author: Peter Hopkirk
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The Outside World Comes Crashing In
This is a very entertaining little history book by the master expert on the obscure lands of Central Asia, Peter Hopkirk, who is also an excellent writer. The focus here is an esoteric bit of history which has probably not been covered elsewhere - the race by the outside world to get into mysterious Tibet, and especially its forbidden capital Lhasa. The Tibetans' almost pathological need to be left alone led them to repel anyone from outside shortly after such interlopers crossed the border. Add to that Tibet's inaccessibility, surrounded on three sides by the most impenetrable mountains on Earth, and on the fourth side by equally hostile deserts, all of which many people though the ages have died trying to traverse. Of course this all made outsiders, especially Westerners, yearn to "gatecrash" this forbidden land.

Hopkirk tells the intriguing tales of the various adventurers, diplomats, and missionaries who made the earliest attempts to reach Lhasa, most of whom didn't make it. While mostly unsuccessful in reaching their ultimate goal, these hardy souls still had incredible stories to tell and contributed immensely to the sparse knowledge of Tibet's geography and culture. Included are some unexpected goodies like the story of the indestructible Pundits from India who literally counted the steps they took, plus the earliest deadly attempts to conquer Mt. Everest. The book ends rather depressingly with the story of China's brutal occupation in the 1950's, which ended Tibet's self-imposed isolation once and for all, after which the Chinese closed it off even more tightly because of political paranoia.

Throughout the book, Hopkirk offers some key insights into ancient Tibetan culture and their homegrown brand of extreme Buddhism. As a result we find that Tibet was never the spiritual paradise of pure thought and devotion that modern celebrity Buddhists try to tell us it was, before the outside world screwed everything up (we see that not even the Dalai Lama makes that claim). You may be surprised by the fierce, if naïve, warlike tendencies of the Tibetans, even their monks. The only problem with this book is Hopkirk's tendency to hold back on many stories. He starts to describe some very interesting tales, like the harsh ordeal of the lone female missionary Susie Rijnhart or the mysterious Japanese spy Narita Yasuteru, only to abruptly claim that the conclusions are outside the scope of the book or more extensively described elsewhere. This is a rather frustrating tease from the author, especially since this book is not that long and there is surely room to spare. But that's the only misstep in this most enjoyable book. (Note: for the much larger story of this region, in which Tibet played a small historical part, see Hopkirk's later masterwork "The Great Game.")

More China bashing from the Great Game maestro
Another classic from the Englishman who brought us Great Game tales and the story of China's missing Buddhist artwork.

This time it's the story of the race to be first in Lhasa - even though the Tibetans asked no one to come and gave no one permission to enter their country. An international cast of Russians, North Americans, the French and the British all attempted to win. Hopkirk's tale of heroism and derring-do then ends with the tragic days of the mid-twentieth century when China invaded and Mao's Red Guard fanatics tried to destroy everything that stood in the way of total domination.

Most travellers entered Tibet incognito, either as private travellers hoping to evade detection, and win the prize of being first to enter the sacred city, or in the service of their military or religious masters. All failed, until the legendary Sir Francis Youghusband fought his way there - in true Great Game style - as the head of a British army battalion sent to head off Russian imperial advances into Tibet.

Of course, the Tibetans didn't want the Brits telling them what to do and conflict broke out. These days, the manner of the British victory at Guru - in the modern day Indian state of Sikkim - would be the subject of an international enquiry.

Many of the other tales are also tragic ...Others are heroic. Most spectacular of all were the 'Pundits' - British trained Indian's spies - who entered Tibet disguised as holy travellers and spent years spinning their prayer wheels, counting every pace and mapping every corner of the country for their colonial masters. It's amazing what you can learning from boiling water.

But the final thoughts that linger are those that wonder why the British, after having spent so much energy defeating the Tibetans, then turned turtle and abandoned them in their hour of need. The United States, by then the world's dominant power, stood by and did nothing either.

It's a melancholy ending to a truly classic work of art that has you groping for the travel maps and the hiking boots. Once again, Peter Hopkirk has managed to spin an enormously enjoyable story about a page of history that very few know anything about.

Watching the Dalai Lama rail against China on the BBC will never be the same again.

Extremely Entertaining
I cannot remember reading a recounting of history in a region that is more entertaining than Hopkirk's Tresspassers on the Roof of the World. In an attention grabbing manner, Hopkirk tells the tales of westerner's attempts, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, to reach Lhasa, the spiritual and temporal capital of Tibet. The characters are serious, yet amusing, and their stories are told very well. A quick read but well worth the trouble of picking up the book!

The Great Game: The Struggle For Empire In Central Asia
Published in Audio Cassette by Books on Tape, Inc. (01 September, 1993)
Author: Peter Hopkirk
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A Hard Book to Put Down
The Great Game, by Peter Hopkirk, is an amazing history of British and Russian imperialism clashing in the Middle East and Asia. Encompassing the time period from the late eighteenth century to the very beginning of the twentieth, the Great Game was much like an enormous game of chess, with Russia seeking to expand its borders and Britain to safeguard its interests in India. Hopkirk reveals both the national policy thoughts of the two nations and the daring moves of each's officers and agents in the regions in question, which include most of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India and the Caucasus. In many cases, the men Hopkirk describes were the first Westerners to set foot in such regions (for example, Bokhara, Khotan and Khokand).

Hopkirk has done incredible research: his bibliography is an impressive 15 pages. And even though he has a wealth of material to cover, he makes sure that the whole presentation is interesting to the reader. He tells a complete story, but expands on issues and events that are both important and interesting. As a result, the exploits of men like Conolly, Stoddart and Burnes come into clear focus against a backdrop of intrigue and, often, duplicitous ness, across a little over 500 pages.

Not unexpectedly, Hopkirk's account tends to be favor the British point of view slightly. Even so, he's quick to point out mistakes and torpedo unjustified accusations on both sides.

I found this book an easy and quick read, completing it in across about four days. While it progresses in roughly chronological sequence, it could easily be read piecemeal if the reader desired. The book kept my interest well, and didn't ever seem to wander aimlessly. I must believe that this is the authoritative account of the subject, and I can recommend it unconditionally, whether this is a subject area of interest for you, or you just want an interesting book to occupy your time.

Interestingly, the end of the Soviet Union has refocused the spotlight on many regions discussed in this book. If you find that you remain interested in the topic after reading it, I recommend following up with Eastern Approaches by Fitzroy MacLean or Journey to Khiva by Phillip Glazebrook.

Excellent History of the 'Great Game'
Peter Hopkirk's book 'The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia' is a great historical account and a very enjoyable book to read. It is very rare nowadays to find a book that holds your attention throughout, without finding one boring section, this is one of those books. In over 560 pages (paperback edition) Peter Hopkirk tells the amazing stories of a number of early British and Russian officers and men involved in the great imperial struggle for supremacy in Central Asia.

I found myself reading late into the morning, at times I couldn't put the book down. Most of the time I had heard of the places and people involved but a lot of this story was new to me. The narrative read like a novel, gripping but informative, never boring and full of information, breathing life into history in a way that is hard to find now-a-days.

This is a great book and I fully agree with the quote on the front cover of the book by Jan Morris "Peter Hopkirk is truly the laureate of the Great Game." If you ever wanted to learn something about this large and remote area then this is the book to start with. If you enjoy military history then this book has it, if you enjoy historical accounts of exploration then this book has it, if you just enjoy good history then this book has it all.

The story of Britain and Russia carving out their Empires in India, Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is truly fascinating and I was amazed at the brave and resourceful men who carved their name in history during this period. Most people have heard of the Khyber Pass and places like Chitral however I had never heard of the Pamirs and Karakorams mountain ranges or of the Kerman and Helmund deserts nor of some of the fierce and warlike tribes that lived in these areas.

After reading this book I yearn for more information about this region and I intend to buy the rest of Peter Hopkirk's books. I would rate this book one of the better ones I have read this year and to finish my review I would like to quote Byron Farwell from his review in 'The New York Times':

"Those who enjoy vividly told tales of derring-do and seek a clear understanding of the history of the emerging central Asian countries will find this a glorious book."

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.

This book is not a "complete" history of the topic: it is told mostly from the British perspective, the Afghans come across poorly, and way too many of the characters are described only as "brilliant, multilingual and resourceful young subalterns." It is not particularly critical of the sources, either, but that's okay, because there's no particular pretension to Historiography here. (This is about spies and explorers and adventure--not about deconstructing anything.)

But Hopkirk's greatest success comes in introducing the reader to the subject matter and providing fodder for the imagination.

One caveat: Do not look at the photographs before you read the book!

A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia
Published in Paperback by Oxford University Press (1900)
Authors: Frederick Burnaby, Peter Hopkirk, and Fred Burnaby
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Truth is stranger than fiction
Burnaby, a classic hero/adventurer type, was the 19th Century's Indiana Jones. His book, a popular sensation when first published in the mid 1800s, chronicles his exciting, dangerous, and sometimes humorous horseback and sleigh/carriage ride from southern Russia to Khiva, in what was then an independant khanate in Central Asia, in the middle of winter. If you like exciting, true adventure travel tales, you owe it to yourself to see this book. A standard by which all subsequent narratives should be measured

A travel and adventure classic.
South central Asia, the focus of the world's attention in 2003, received an earlier share of it in the 1870s. For centuries travelers' tales and the mention of such exotic names as Samarcand, Tashkent and Bokhara had aroused interest and fired imaginations. To all this was added rumor in 1875 that British interests in India were threatened by Russian expansionism. In particular, it was believed that Russian forces were massing in the recently occupied city of Khiva, nowadays in Uzbekistan, in preparation for an invasion of India.

A situation like this fitted perfectly the kind of 'investigative reporting' adventures that Frederick Burnaby craved. In 1876, this 33-year-old captain in the British army took leave of absence, and set out for Khiva. The journey involved a ride of over one thousand miles in well below freezing conditions across steppes and wastelands.

On his return, Burnaby wrote 'A Ride to Khiva' and it instantly became a best seller. A well-educated man, proficient in many languages, and a keen observer of all he encountered, his account still ranks as one of the great adventure classics of literature.

I am grateful to the neighbor who lent me this book, and can report that reading it has provided many hours of fascination. Burnaby died ten years after writing this book, supposedly during a massacre in the Sudan. Keen Internet browsers might find reference to a recent revelation that throws doubt upon the truth of the official account of his death.

A "Great Game" classic
This is an exciting adventure book, writen in 1876 about the travels of a British Army Captain through Western Siberia into Khiva, a city in Central Asia recently taken by the Russian Empire. It purports to be just travel by an army man at liesure, and wanting to see parts of the world. Since we are in the "Great Game" era, when Britain and Russia were contending for the countries around India, I have the feeling that it was more than that, and that the author's mission was somewhat akin to "checking out the land" in the case of an impending conflict. Anyway, it's extremely well-written, and the descriptions of both the places and the people are first rate! The author obviously had a keen eye, and I would really love to read the report he actually submitted to his superiors in London when he returned. I'm sure it's still buried deeply in their secret files.

Setting the East ablaze : Lenin's dream of an empire in Asia
Published in Unknown Binding by J. Murray ()
Author: Peter Hopkirk
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Carries the story on from The Great Game--but not as well
Hopkirk is a mater story teller. Anyone who cares about how Afghanistan and the surrounding countries ended up the way they did must read The Great Game--Hopkirk's gripping description of the battle between Russia and England for control of Central Asia--a hint: they both lost.

This volume picks up the story with the Russian Revolution. Again, Hopkirk does an excellent job of out lining the players, the global politics, and how it all impacted on this traditional "crossroads of the world". Here, the focus is on Lenin, and Russia's (successful) attempt to claim/re-claim Central asia as its own.

My criticisim is that the story is not nearly as gripping as a story as was the Great Game. There are superb vignettes, but the overall narrative is simply not as good.

However, if you want to know why Russia was willing to dvote a decade (1980 to 1990) to its war in Afghanistan, which set the stage for the Taliban and Al Queda, then I know of no better book.

A Gripping Tale of the Last Stages of the Great Game!
This is an instant classic! But some of you may be wondering: what's so great about an obscure conflict in an obscure land?
For a start there's the psychopathic White Russian general, Ungern-Sternberg, the "Mad Baron", who believes himself to be the reincarnation of Genghis Khan, and who dreams of conquering Russia at the head of a Mongol army. There's Enver Pasha, the former Ottoman Minister of War recruited by the Bolsheviks, but soon betraying them in pursuit of his dream - a new Turkish empire in Central Asia. For Britain the greatest threat comes from the new Russia of Lenin and Trotsky, once more playing hard at the Great Game, eager to undermine Britain by striking at India. There are Chinese Warlords, defeated White Russian armies, Muslim rebels, bandits, an ambitious Afghan king, secret agents, Tibetan bandits, and always the possibility of a British expedition.
At the geographical centre of all this is the Chinese province of Sinkiang - a land surrounded on 3 sides by soaring mountain ranges, at its heart the world's most inhospitable desert, littered with lost cities. Between mountains and desert lies a ring of walled towns where travellers cross with a single step from an arid expanse of sand and gravel into a world of trickling streams and shady groves. Along the ancient Silk Road between the towns trudge trade caravans of camels, donkeys, huge-wheeled carts and the occasional motor car or lorry. In the towns among the narrow streets, crumbling buildings, and bustling markets Indian traders watch, sending reports back to British India...
Well, there it is, and as I have said before, you must get this book! The gripping narrative just makes you unable to put the book down until you have finished, and then it forces you to read it again! Get this book quickly!

Absolutely brilliant
One of the best books I have read in years. Possibly better than Hopkirk's original 'The Great Game'. While this is the tale of about espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines in Central Asia, it reads like an adventure novel.

The action centres around immediate aftermath of the Russian revolution, just when the new soviet state was most intent on exporting revolution to the rest of the world. Hopkirk is at his best when he introduces Russia's nemesis in Central Asia - a certain Colonel Frederick Bailey, 'Great Game' hero and butterfly collector. Totally bonkers, in a truly British way. It's so exciting that you can scarcely believe that it's true - apparently it is.

Bailey, a british agent from the Raj, is sent to Central Asia to foil Soviet attempts to expand their empire south. Along the way he evades hit squads, execution chambers and even manages to circulate amongst the enemy by joining their own secret service and working as a double agent. About half way through, Bailey evenually gets back to India and drops out of sight - much to the frustration of the Soviets, but not before one final shoot out at the border post.

Hopkirk then sets off on another romp from Moscow to the Pacific Ocean, detailing the struggle between the Whites, the Reds and their respective supporters in the international community. This time there are multiple players -: the Soviet Comintern, Indian Communists, Turkish Nationalists, White Russians, British agents fighting for the Whites and some very, very cruel members of God's creation. Everything swirls around in a vast game where everyone is out to grab what they can from the dismembered Russian empire.

Almost everyone in here will be new to most readers - with the exception of Mikhael Borodin - but that shouldn't detract from an excellent piece of story telling. This is history the way it should be written. Five Stars is five too few.

Foreign devils on the Silk Road : the search for the lost cities and treasures of Chinese Central Asia
Published in Unknown Binding by Murray ()
Author: Peter Hopkirk
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Burglary in the back of beyond
What can you say about Peter Hopkirk that really sums up why he's the guru of the Great Game and derring-do in Central Asia. It's quite hard to put it down to anything in particular, but I find myself gripped with a longing for adventure every time I lift his tales and start to read. The Raj, the Russians, wild holy men and camel trains in Gobi sands - it's all there and I just can't get enough of it.
Is it being British and longing to know how a nation of bunglers can ever come so close to ruling the universe? Or is it the sheer romantic lust for wide open spaces and seeing things no one has ever seen before - except of course the ones who live here? I don't know, but By Jings Foreign Devils on the Silk Road is about as romantic as you can get.
It's about the race to steal the treasures of north-western China at the turn of the twentieth century. Sir Aurel Stein, a Brit. of Hungarian birth, and Sven Hedin, a Swede with a bit of thing for dictators, began a thirty year competition to find and save for posterity the ninth century Buddhist art work that had lain under the sands of the Taklamakan and Gobi deserts for the best part of a millennium. It would change the West's understanding of Central Asian history and their linguistics for ever.
After Stein and Hedin there came the ever-brilliant French, the determined Germans and a very strange bunch of Japanese 'holy men' come spies. A Russian or two arrived a little late and the final curtain came down on an headstrong Yank who didn't quite get what he'd bargained for when the Chinese decided enough was enough.
All set off from Kashgar and travelled by camel into no man's land in search of cities long forgotten and swallowed up in sand dunes. Not a satellite phone between them, they all managed to return with cart loads of precious art works and magnificent scrolls which they 'found' in desert oases and religious retreats guarded by monks who were up for a bribe or two. All met the McCartney's of Kashgar, those mad English nutters who ran a hilltop listening station in true Great Game style. (Yes the ones in 'Setting the East Ablaze' and the one's with the bathroom called 'Victory'). All steered by the stars and all had life threatening disasters involving frostbite and a bandit or two.
By the end you'll realise why Stein and Pelliot aren't names worth mentioning next time you're passing through Chinese customs. The Chinese, funnily enough, aren't too pleased at being reminded they all stood by and watched while wave after wave of expeditions left their territory with priceless artefacts - some of which were destroyed in WWII bombing raids while others lie stacked in boxes under the cobbled streets of Bloomsbury in London.
It's a gripping tale and one which reminds us that the world is very different now. You just can't ride a donkey into someone's house and rob them any more. How sad.

An excellent survey of the explorers of the Silk Road. In response to the New England reviewer, the bulk of the material in fact DID survive WWII; the majority of the texts were brought by Paul Pelliot to the National Library in Paris. There is also a collection in London. Therefore, Hopkirk's argument does stand (see the trouble Victor H. Mair had in finding funding for the Tarim Mummies!).

So where was Indiana Jones?
A mesmerising book, Hopkirk writes with a flair and passion that is infectious. The stories told by Hopkirk in 'Foreign Devils on the Silk Road' read like they belong in an Indiana Jones movie: Russian, French, Chinese, British and even Swedish(!) adventurers - heroes and villans both - competing to find the treasures of legendary cities buried for centuries beneath the trecherous sands of the Taklamakan desert. Exotic locations (still largely unknown to the Western world), rumours of supernatural forces protecting the buried cities - even the Indiana Jones-esque link to early Christian sects (the Nestorians) - it's all there! But it's more than just a "boy's own" adventure story: Hopkirk provides fascinating insights into the history of the ancient Silk Road as well as its latter intersection with the Great Game. I've been trying to figure out how to get to the Taklamakan ever since reading the book, which is now several years ago. This is history at its most readable.

Mission to Tashkent
Published in Paperback by Oxford University Press (2002)
Authors: Peter Hopkirk and Frederick Bailey
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Brit grit!
As another reviewer remarks, English prose style is not the colonel's strong suit. If ever a book called for the firm hand of a skilled editor, this is such a book. It abounds with inconsequential asides ("I met him years later in Korea"), terse sentences and a wealth of exclamation marks. Nevertheless, this does give the reader an idea of the author's authentic voice and persona - that of an end of empire action man.

The exploits of Colonel Bailey show that the kind of military man that we read of in Rider Haggard and John Buchan's novels really did exist. He would not have been out of place joining an Indiana Jones expedition. He really was an Edwardian action man writ large - bold, resourceful, uncomplaining and considerate of those endangered by his presence.

He is almost a caricature of the quintessentially British officer muddling through to triumph. He comes across as a talented amateur jack-of-all-trades - no James Bond he! He was a fair linguist but, as luck would have it, only had a smattering or no knowledge of the languages of the nationals he pretended to be: Serbs, Austrians, Romanians etc.

He certainly comes across as fearless. On one occasion he nonchalently reads a copy of The Times that he has "borrowed" from a Bolshevik officer in the room next door who had been sent to hunt for him. English sang froid is much in evidence as he casually mentions the executions of numerous people with whom he had been in close association. This guy had more lives than a dozen cats.

The book very much brings alive the chaos and casual brutality of the early days of the Bolshevik revolution in Turkestan. Somehow Bailey slips through it all, constantly striving to get intelligence out to Britain. Miraculously he never seems to want for money - we never do learn where it came from or where he kept it.

Bailey was a first class eccentric officer - as evidence of this I offer the fact that, whilst detailing his adventures in a world gone mad, he thinks it sufficiently important and interesting to his readers to catalog the various species of butterfly that he captured and preserved on his travels. He even presents us with a complete list of those taken between the Pamirs, Kashgar and on the road to Russian Turkestan complete with Latin names, and the place, altitude and date they were collected.

Mad dogs and Englishmen indeed!

Mission to Tashkent - good factual account.
Let's get the bad bit out the way first, F.M. Bailey was not a great writer. This is reflected in Mission to Tashkent, where the style of the writer does not follow what you would normally consider a gripping read. For example, there are one or two occasions where a character in the book is not mentioned for long enough, for you to have to go back several pages to find out who they are. I would have given it five stars had it not been for this.

What Mission to Tashkent is, is a factual account of the Russian Revolution, as played out in Central Asia, where the Bolshevik Russian minority based mainly in Tashkent (now in the independant sate of Uzbekistan) had to overcome White Russian, Moslem and British forces to establish the revolution on Central Asia (the British eventually withdrew, not wanting to become too involved).

In this book, F.M. Bailey, whose previous adventures had involved accompanying Francis E. Younghusband to Tibet in 1904 (on account of the fact he could speak Tibetan), details his journey from India via Kashgar to Tashkent. Once in Tashkent, the book covers the writer's life there, under constant fear of arrest or execution at the hands of the local Bolshevik Provisional Government. His official purpose was as a diplomatic representative for the British in Central Asia, which created much danger for himself, due to the presence of British forces at Ashgabad in Turkmenistan. He also gathered information for the British as to what exactly was happening there, due to concerns that the large number of German and Austrian prisoners of war held in Central Asia could be used to attack British India, if organised into a fighting force by German agents known to operate in Iran and Afghanistan - it was 1917/1918 and Britian was still fighting Germany. He also acted on the British behalf, believing that the British were about to advance on Tashkent and unseat the Bolsheviks in Central Asia, but in the end, this never happened with the aforementioned British withdrawal. The book finishes with his eventual flight to Iran, ending in his escape after a skirmish with Bolshevik troops on the Iranian border.

I found the book to be a thoroughly engrossing read, bar the aforementioned problems with the book's style and would thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in Turkestan / Uzbekistan and Central Asian history. With it being a factual account, it also makes for a useful insight into what was happening in outlying Tashkent at a time, when everyone else's eyes were focused on what was happening in revolutionary Moscow and St. Petersburg and how the Germans were going to react after the withdrawal of the Russians from the Great War. Highly recommended.

How Does He Get Away With That?
So much of what has happened in Persia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan in the last 150 years is due to what has been called "The Great Game." Russia has always been a superpower that lacked a salt-water seaport free of ice all year round. (The Black Sea doesn't count because Turkey controls access to it through the easily defensible Bosphorus and Dardanelles.) Consequently, it has always sought to destabilize South Asia in the hopes of being able to get a port on the Indian Ocean.

One of the highest ranking pieces in the Great Game was the British intelligent agent Lieut-Col Frederick M. Bailey, who wrote this fascinating book. So if you're a great intelligence agent, why is it so difficult to write a good book? Simple: A good intelligence agent keeps too much unsaid. Information is his stock in trade, so he is very sparing of all the interesting details.

Picture present-day Uzbekistan in the first year of the Bolshevik takeover (1918). No one in Europe had any idea of what to expect from the Bolsheviks. Would they become more moderate in time? Would the Muslim population accept them? Would the White Russians defeat them in battle and restore the Czar?

In the midst of all these swirling theories strode the skinny and extremely canny Colonel Bailey. He set himself up in Tashkent as the official representative of His Majesty's Government but immediately ran into roadblocks. Without informing Bailey, Britain had in the meantime engaged the Bolsheviks in battle near Murmansk and near the Caucasus. That quickly made Bailey persona non grata (which meant ripe for execution in those times).

But how does one arrest a wizard? Bailey immediately went underground and assumed the identity of a Romanian, Czech, Austrian, Albanian, or other POW, of which Tashkent had many from those WW 1 days. He rarely stayed in one place for more than a day or two, though he did manage to develop some loyal contacts, including the US consul Tredwell. For over a year, Bailey eluded capture. During the whole of that time, there was no effective contact with his government; and during most of that time, he was actively sought by the Cheka, or secret police.

The escape from Tashkent was ingenious and dramatic. Bailey got himself hired as a Bolshevik agent under an assumed identity and assigned to Bokhara, which was not yet under Bolshevik control at that time. There, he reached into his inexhaustible supply of money and bought horses, men and influence to allow him to escape south to Meshed in Persia, where there was a British presence.

I wish I knew at every point how the magician pulled a particular rabbit out of his hat, but I'll just have to take that as a given. Today, Bailey is regarded by the British as one of their greatest spies. In Central Asia, he is regarded as an arch-villain who threatened the development of Communism in Central Asia.

MISSION TO TASHKENT is not an easy read, but it is absolutely vital in understanding the forces, many of which still operate in this pivotal area of the globe.

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