In the spring of 1839, the British invaded Afghanistan for the first time. Led by lancers in scarlet cloaks and plumed shakos, nearly 20,000 British and East India Company troops poured through the high mountain passes and re-established on the throne Shah Shuja ul-Mulk. On the way in, the British faced little resistance. But after two years of occupation, the Afghan people rose in answer to the call for jihad and the country exploded into violent rebellion. The First Anglo-Afghan War ended in Britain's greatest military humiliation of the nineteenth century: an entire army of the then most powerful nation in the world ambushed in retreat and utterly routed by poorly equipped tribesmen. Shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2013, Return of a King is the definitive analysis of the First Afghan War, told through the lives of unforgettable characters on all sides and using for the first time contemporary Afghan accounts of the conflict. Prize-winning and bestselling historian William Dalrymple's masterful retelling of Britain's greatest imperial disaster is a powerful and important parable of colonial ambition and cultural collision, folly and hubris, for our times.
William Dalrymple is the bestselling author of In Xanadu, City of Djinns, From the Holy Mountain, The Age of Kali, White Mughals, The Last Mughal and, most recently, Nine Lives. He has won the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award, the Sunday Times Young British Writer of the Year Award, the French Prix d'Astrolabe, the Wolfson Prize for History, the Scottish Book of the Year Award, the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, the Asia House Award for Asian Literature, the Vodafone Crossword Award for non-fiction and has, prior to the shortlisting of Return of a King, been longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize three times. In 2012 he was appointed Whitney J. Oates Visiting Fellow in Humanities at Princeton University. He lives with his wife and three children on a farm outside Delhi.
This sorry saga has been recounted many times, but never that I can recall as well as by Dalrymple. He is a master story-teller, whose special gift lies in the use of indigenous sources, so often neglected by imperial chroniclers -- Max Hastings Sunday Times Enchantingly written ... In Dalrymple's usual happy style of historical narrative, applied to a fascinating, neat and highly suggestive series of events, this long and involved book will be a great success, and bring the famous story to a large new audience -- Philip Hensher Spectator Of the books swooped into being by his scholarship (to which he himself has applied the adjective "obsessive"), this one is the most magnificent ... His account is so perceptive and so warmly humane that one is never tempted to break away ... This book would be compulsive reading even if it were not a uniquely valuable history, which it is, because Dalrymple has uncovered sources never used before -- Diana Athill Guardian