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The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic…

The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1838-1842 (2012)

by Diana Preston

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Once I started reading Diana Preston's The Dark Defile: Britain's Catastrophic Invasion of Afghanistan, 1839-1842 (Walker & Company, 2012) over the weekend, I had a terrible time putting it down again. I quickly discovered that I was utterly and completely in the dark about the details of the First Anglo-Afghan War, and Preston offers a vivid narrative history of the conflict's origins, events, and aftermath.

Drawing on published and unpublished documents (government reports and dispatches, letters and diaries, &c.), as well as on Afghan oral traditions and other sources, Preston has done a masterful job. It is, at times, not an easy book to read: the whole tale reads like something of a slow-motion train wreck, frankly, as misstep piles on misunderstanding, political and military blunders come fast and furious, and duplicitous acts on both sides lead to disastrous consequences and long-term regional instability.

Preston mostly refrains from making overt comparisons with the First Anglo-Afghan War to more current events, but the implications are clear. There were and are lessons to be learned from this conflict, and as she points out in the epilogue, some Afghan memories of this long-ago war are still surprisingly fresh (I don't want to spoil the book by recounting one particular anecdote, but it struck me quite strongly as I read).

Highly recommended.

http://philobiblos.blogspot.com/2012/04/book-review-dark-defile.html ( )
  JBD1 | Apr 11, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802779824, Hardcover)

Convinced in 1838 that Britain's invaluable empire in India was threatened by Russia, Persia, and Afghan tribes, the British government ordered its Army of the Indus into Afghanistan to oust from power the independent-minded king, Dost Mohammed, and install in Kabul the unpopular puppet ruler Shah Shuja. Expecting a quick campaign, the British found themselves trapped by unforeseen circumstances; eventually the tribes united and the seemingly omnipotent army was slaughtered in 1842 as it desperately retreated through the mountain passes from Kabul to Jalalabad. Only one Briton survived uncaptured. Diana Preston vividly recounts the drama of this First Afghan War, one of the opening salvos in the strategic rivalry between Britain and Russia for supremacy in Central Asia. As insightful about geography as she is about political and military miscalculation, Preston draws on rarely documented letters and diaries to bring alive long-lost characters-Lord Auckland, the weak British governor-general in India; his impetuous aide William Macnaghten; and the prescient adventurer-envoy Alexander Burnes, whose sage advice was steadfastly ignored. A model of compelling narrative history, The Dark Defile is a fascinating exploration of nineteenth-century geopolitics, and a cautionary tale that resonates loudly today.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:20 -0400)

An account of the mid-nineteenth-century war in Afghanistan documents how the British government sought to protect regional interests by attempting to install a puppet ruler only to be defeated by united Afghanistan tribes.

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